Injured Elias stuns with 250 victory
7 September 2003
Having sat out yesterday due to injury, it wouldn't have been unexpected if Toni Elias hadn't even started today's 250cc Portuguese Grand Prix. However, the tough Spaniard not only took his place at the front of the pack, but went on to win in convincing style – distancing himself from a frantic fight for the final podium positions.
Yesterday saw Elias hold pole position despite being knocked off his Aprilia by a wild-card rider at the end of the morning free practice session - suffering concussion and a nasty cut to his chin as a result.
While Elias was taken to a hospital in Lisbon for precautionary tests, none of the competition were able to match Elias' time from yesterday, with second placed Randy De Puniet only able to come within 0.203 seconds of the Spaniard.
De Puniet's French compatriot Sylvain Guintoli will make his first ever front row start from third place, just ahead of series leader Manuel Poggiali. Fonsi Nieto suffered a mechanical problem when trying to improve his times at the end of the session and will start from the back of the second row in eighth place behind Sebastian Porto, Franco Battaini and Roberto Rolfo.
The injured Elias would line up on pole, for the first time in the 250cc class, today despite his injuries - and when the race began made a superb getaway to lead Porto, de Puniet, Debon, Rolfo and Poggiali. However, fears were raised of another red flagged race as Katja Poensgen fell heavily on the first lap, leaving her static on the race track.
As it turned out, the German would be stretchered away before the field completed the lap and racing continued, by which time fourth placed Rolfo had suffered a scare of his own as his feet were thrown of the footpegs whilst he tried to close down new leader Porto, and the chasing de Puniet and Elias (second and third respectively).
Rolfo recovered, and was soon back on the rear wheel of Elias, but by then was also being forced to defend against the increasingly impatient Poggiali as a five rider lead group formed ahead of Battaini and Nieto.
The championship leader would blast past Rolfo, largely on top speed, during lap 5 of 26, but the lead group looked evenly matched until the halfway point when the gritty Elias amazingly began to stretch away up front - from Porto, Poggiali, Rolfo and de Puniet.
Meanwhile, Elias' team-mate Nieto was suffering very different fortunes, and was watching his title hopes slip away as he dropped down the order to ninth by lap 16.
Amazingly, considering his injuries and lack of track time, 'Toni' continued to stretch his lead in the latter half of the race – and with two to go held an unstoppable 5.6secs advantage over the attention grabbing struggle for second between Rolfo, Poggiali and Porto respectively (de Puniet having slipped a further second back).
One time GP winner Rolfo lost second to Poggiali half a lap later, while Porto also used the moment to pounce on the fellow Honda – before being slipstreamed by the Italian going into turn one for the final time.
Poggiali hadn't escaped either and also looked likely to fall victim to the Fortuna rider, but heading into the super tight chicane for the final time Porto tried a desperate move inside the #3 – smashing into the side of his rival's machine and sending the Argentinean to the ground.
Rolfo was pushed wide in the collision, allowing de Puniet to steal the final podium position - which won't have made Honda happy...
Porto restarted his machine to limp home fifth, ahead of Battaini, Guintoli and Matsudo – but the day belongs to the brave Elias for his heroic ride – not even he could believe how far ahead he was at the flag given his problematic weekend.
By contrast, team-mate Nieto would finish just ninth.
Full results to follow...
3. de Puniet