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Rolfo grabs dramatic debut victory

27 July 2003

Roby Rolfo finally secured his first ever 250cc GP victory today at the Sachsenring, after holding off a charging Fonsi Nieto and Randy de Puniet at the end of 29 hard fought laps of the Sachsenring.

In turn, Fortuna rider Rolfo also broke Honda's quarter-litre win drought, which had lasted since Daijiro Kato's 2001 title winning season - and moved to within seven points of championship leader Manuel Poggiali.

Yesterday, Sebastian Porto took his first pole position of the season with a brave last lap attempt as droplets of rain began to fall at the end of the session.

Porto's best lap dislodged factory colleague Roberto Rolfo from the top of the time sheets after the Italian had looked set for his debut career pole, and the Argentinean will start from the front of the grid for the second time.

Despite Rolfo's disappointment at missing out on pole, second position is his highest ever grid position and he will also take confidence from the fact that he almost won the race here last year when Marco Melandri crashed and handed him a clear lead, only for the race to be red flagged due to rain and the victory handed to the World Champion-elect.

Although it was a memorable day for Honda, the season so far has been dominated by Aprilia, who hold all the remaining positions on the front three rows bar one: Only Yamaha rider Naoki Matsudo was able to break the Italian factory hegemony as Franco Battaini and Fonsi Nieto completed the front row, with the Japanese rider starting from the second row alongside Randy De Puniet, Manuel Poggiali and Sylvain Guintoli.

Into today's race and Rolfo got the jump into turn one, leading Porto and Nieto while chaos reigned behind with five riders going down at turn one, although of those Debon and Marchand would eventually rejoin.

Meanwhile, Rolfo stood firm under pressure from Porto and instead it would be Nieto who faltered – the Telefonica Aprilia star running wide on lap 8 (of 29), before rejoining in sixth.

The leading contenders then proceeded to split into two groups, and by mid race distance Rolfo, de Puniet, Porto and Guintoli enjoyed a 3secs lead over Battaini, Nieto and Poggiali – the latter having working his way up after a bad start.

However, the former 125cc world champion's hopes would suffer a huge blow when he too ran wide, his MS liveried Aprilia creeping out to the grass and collapsing at an embarrassingly low speed. 'The Pog' rejoined, but back in tenth, behind Battaini.

8 laps to go and another race contender would fall, this time Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, who lost the front of his Campetella Aprilia while fourth and was sent tumbling into the German gravel – and retirement.

With new fourth placed man Porto now starting to fade, the closing stages saw the race reduced to a three-way fight between Rolfo, de Puniet and Nieto.

The top two switched places several times and de Puniet looked poised for a last lap attack - when Nieto came from nowhere and dived inside the LCR rider into turn one, shocking the Frenchman who ran wide in the process.

Nieto then turned his attention to Rolfo and with the Italian's rear wheel leaving black lines out of nearly every turn, the Spaniard looked more than capable of denying the 23-year-old of his first GP victory.

However, having been so close so many times before - not least at the same circuit one year ago - Rolfo wasn't letting this chance slip through his grasp and took defensive lines into each of the remaining corners on his way to a universally popular win.

Behind the top three, pole sitter Porto took a safe fourth, ahead of Battaini, West and Elias.

With Poggiali finishing just eighth, his point lead has now shrunk to just three over Nieto with Rolfo a mere seven points from the top.

Full results to follow...

1. Rolfo
2. Nieto
3. de Puniet
4. Porto
5. Battaini
6. West
7. Elias
8. Poggiali


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