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Elias disappears to 250cc victory
12 October 2003
After working his way to the front, following some hectic early laps, Toni Elias repeated his qualifying pace to disappear from the field for his fifth win of the season at today's 250cc Malaysian GP.
Yesterday, Elias was simply untouchable, continually improving his provisional pole time before stretching his advantage to some 0.884 seconds over nearest challenger Manuel Poggiali.
Elias' last lap effort beat the previous pole record at this circuit held by his team-mate Fonsi Nieto, who was third fastest. A last gasp lap from Yamaha rider Naoki Matsudo sealed fourth place on an otherwise all-Aprilia front row.
Randy De Puniet battled through the discomfort of an overnight fever, but was unable to improve on his best time from yesterday. Only Matsudo's late effort denied him a front row start however and the Frenchman will start from fifth place. Franco Battaini, Sebastian Porto and Sylvain Guintoli complete the second row.
Chinese rider Huang Shi Zhao qualified in 25th place ahead of regular rider Henk Vd Lagemaat, although his unlucky team-mate He Zi Xian dropped out of the qualification limit when Elias clocked his best lap at the end of the session.
Into today, and as the riders' charged into turn one it was Debon who shocked by taking the holeshot from eleventh – but it wasn't such a shock when he got a jump start a lap later - while Rolfo made a similar, but legal, improvement to take second from tenth on the grid.
Rolfo then waited just a few turns to pass the Spaniard - before himself falling victim to Nieto.
So, by the end of a hectic lap one it was Nieto, from Rolfo, Elias, Poggiali, Debon, de Puniet, Porto (another jump starter) and West. However, Rolfo's Honda didn't have the 'legs' to keep up with the Aprilias and Elias was soon forming the tail end of a Repsol one-two, with Poggiali's black MS machine chasing.
Elias snatched the lead for the first time on lap three and, in a reversal of a year ago, left Nieto to protect second from the attentions of title rival Poggiali and Rolfo, although the Fortuna rider was now more concerned with defending his position from de Puniet.
Thereafter, Elias simply repeated his qualifying pace and walked away from the opposition - holding a 5secs lead by lap 7 of 20 – while Nieto and Poggiali, then Rolfo and de Puniet, battled in separate 'pairs' behind.
Poggiali finally found a way past his opponent three laps later, but could make no impact into Elias' lead – Toni taking an 8.2secs advantage into the second half of the GP, while Nieto stuck to the San Marinese rider's rear wheel menacingly.
Into the closing stages and Elias had a near 10-second lead over the continuing fight for second, while Rolfo had finally shaken off injured LCR Aprilia rider de Puniet for a safe fourth – meaning all eyes were on the Poggiali/Nieto fight as the last lap began.
Fonsi attacked early as the circulation began, out-braking Poggiali into turn one - but running wide - before recovering to make the move stick at his second attempt, a few turns later.
Nieto tried to pull a safe gap, but to no avail, and heading down the long run into the final hairpin the two were almost inseparable. Nieto looked to have the position – but bobbled slightly as he hit the brakes ultra-late, allowing Poggiali to dive inside. The former 125cc world champion then held firm on the charge to the line, reducing Elias' point's gain to just 5.
Nevertheless, Toni's decisive victory still moved him up to second in the points, equal with Rolfo – but having more race wins - with the pair now exactly one race win (25 points) behind the #54, with two events to go.
Meanwhile, Nieto was clearly disappointed at not being able to help his team-mate further, but can still be proud after riding his best race for some time, and finishing 15secs ahead of Rolfo.
Full results to follow...
5. de Puniet