De Puniet triumphs in 250 Czech classic
17 August 2003
Randy de Puniet took his second ever GP victory today at Brno, triumphing after a frantic race long fight with stars Toni Elias and Manuel Poggiali.
Final qualifying saw Poggiali pick up pole after a red flag 30 seconds from the end of the session baulked several riders in their late quest for times.
Elias in particular was on course to snatch the front slot on the starting grid from the former 125cc World Champion when Anthony West fell dangerously and lay stricken in the final corner, forcing the marshals to halt the session as a precautionary measure.
With no time to complete a flying lap Elias, who won the 125cc race here two years ago, will now start from the outside of the front row behind Poggiali, de Puniet and Fonsi Nieto. West fractured his ankle in the crash but joined the second row of today's grid behind Franco Battaini, Roberto Rolfo and Sylvain Guintoli.
Into today, and grabbing the early race lead after an aggressive move into turn one was Elias, who squeezed inside Poggiali, while de Puniet pushed the class rookie down to third soon after with Rolfo, Nieto, Guintoli, Porto, Bataille and Marchand completing the top ten.
By the end of the first lap the confident de Puniet had nudged Elias out of the lead, and would dictate the pace from the front until lap 8 of 20, when Poggiali hit top for the first time. By that stage the original lead pack had split into three: Poggiali, de Puniet and Elias up front, then a solitary Rolfo 1secs behind, then Nieto and Porto, some 3secs off the fourth placed Fortuna Honda.
The top three continued to trade positions for the next two laps before Elias established himself as race favourite, setting regular lap records as he tried to break his chasing rivals. However, he suddenly dropped back into the clutches of Poggiali and de Puniet on lap 12, after appearing to decide he couldn't go it alone and wanted to see what the others could offer.
Regardless of his motives, the MS liveried machine of Poggilai was soon ahead of Elias, and the Spanish rider in turn was left to battle de Puniet – but it mattered little, the top three were still nose-to-tail (with Rolfo agonisingly just out of reach) and the race was unlikely to be decided until the final lap.
That proved to be the case and after almost constant position shuffling and paint swapping the final circulation began with de Puniet, Poggiali and Elias (respectively) separated by just 0.189secs.
Elias made a lunge at turn one, but ran wide and had to return to third, before starting a frantic battle with Poggiali for second that saw the pair swap places several times before making it stick.
But their battle allowed de Puniet to gain vital ground and Elias simply ran out of road as he closed down the flying Frenchman who was naturally ecstatic at taking such a hard fought - and well deserved - victory.
Indeed, the race was a true 250 classic, conjuring up memories of past quarter-litre battles of the Biaggi/Capirossi/Harada era, while in championship terms Nieto's distant sixth means Poggiali increases his points lead to nine over the Spaniard.
Full results to follow...
1. de Puniet