Poggiali wins 250cc Rio rumble
20 September 2003
Manuel Poggiali ended his 250cc win drought in fantastic style today at Rio, as the class rookie emerged on top after a race long duel with Toni Elias – which be decided only by a fall midway through the final lap.
Qualifying witnessed Elias streak to his second successive pole, putting him clear favourite for victory today after dominating all four practice sessions.
The Spaniard, who moved up to second in the championship with victory at Estoril last time out, was rarely threatened yesterday, although series leader Manuel Poggiali did offer some resistance and moved to within 0.132 seconds of his closest challenger for the title.
Roby Rolfo crashed in yesterday's morning practice and was off the pace in the final session, but he'll still start third today, ahead of Randy De Puniet. De Puniet's progress was at the expense of Fonsi Nieto, who crashed in final qualifying and ended up over a second slower than his best effort from Thursday.
Nieto therefore lines up fifth, and is joined on the second row by Sebastian Porto, Sylvain Guintoli and Franco Battaini.
When the red lights went out it was a Honda one-two into turn one as Rolfo led Porto, while the factory Aprilias of Elias, Nieto, Poggiali and de Puniet battled it out behind, with Guintoli, Matsudo, Debon and Bataille completing the early top ten.
2002 winner Porto hit the front midway through the second lap, but it wasn't to last as Poggiali, Nieto and Rolfo blasted past along the 1000m back straight. The Argentine's race then got a lot worse when, much to his obvious disgust, he span out of the 22 lap race.
Meanwhile, Nieto's title hopes took a perhaps terminal turn for the worse at the same time when he suddenly sat-up and cruised into retirement with obvious mechanical problems.
But back on track and Poggiali and Elias were still locked nose-to-tail up front, with a growing lead over Rolfo and de Puniet, while 16-year-old Chaz Davies was putting in a head turning ride – up to an excellent eighth by the fifth circulation of the Nelson Piquet circuit.
Poggiali and Elias would continue in formation up to - and beyond - the midway point, the pair in a class of their own as they continued to drop the equally tense fight for third between de Puniet and Rolfo, the Frenchman now ahead but unable to gain any ground on the silver and red Fortuna rider.
Heading into the second half and, having put an aggressive pass on the former 125cc world champion, Elias was now just a few tenths clear of Poggy and bracing himself for the inevitable retaliation from the MS backed rider.
It would come on with 8 laps to go when, after exchanging positions several times, Elias dived for a narrow gap on the inside of a left hander to retake the lead. Unfortunately, Poggiali was heading for the same spot and the two made contact. Both kept their machines on two-wheels, but were in serious danger of running wide on the exit of the turn and only emergency action kept them on the track.
The collision would cost them little in terms of time, but Poggiali seemed to be shaken slightly and it would be several laps before he closed back to Elias' rear wheel. However, that he did, and with 5 to go the pair were back swapping positions as the thrilling bar-to-bar action continued.
It was clear that the race for first, and third, would be going right to the line as the last lap began with Poggiali leading Elias by just 0.169secs, and de Puniet ahead of Rolfo by a similar margin.
Elias dived inside his rival early in the lap, but Poggiali was sitting cool for the long back straight and calmly allowed himself to be sucked up to - and in front of - the #24 Aprilia. Realising what would happen, Toni tried to outbrake the San Marinese around the outside of the fast left hander that followed, but – perhaps inevitably – his front wheel folded and Elias was spat down the road.
He would remount his smashed Aprilia to limp home 18th, by which time Poggiali had finished a lonely 12.9secs ahead of his nearest rival – Rolfo, who in an equally tense fight beat de Puniet to the flag by just 0.054secs.
The loss of both Telefonica Aprilia riders from the points today means that Poggiali has taken a major step towards his second world title, now holding a 22 point advantage over Rolfo.
Further back, Davies held his own against the factory machines to cross the finish line a career best ninth for the KF Concept Aprilia Germany team.
Full results to follow…
3. de Puniet