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Ballerini wins wet 125cc Australian GP!

19 October 2003

Rain master Andrea Ballerini took advantage of appalling weather at Phillip Island to win his first ever 125cc GP today, the Italian leading an Ajo motorsport one-two as team-mate Masao Azuma completed a dream day for the small Finnish team.

Yesterday, Stefano Perugini snatched pole position from Alex de Angelis. Provisional pole holder Jorge Lorenzo had remained unchallenged for much of the practice, until de Angelis took control with five minutes remaining.

KTM's Mika Kallio and home favourite Casey Stoner both mounted pole attacks in the dying stages but were unable to match the pace of Perugini's late effort and had to settle for front row starts in third and fourth place respectively behind de Angelis in second.

Lorenzo was unable to lower his best time from Friday and dropped to fifth as a result, ahead of Hector Barbera - who also failed to improve on his provisional front row time - Mirko Giansanti and Andrea Dovizioso. Wild-cards Joshua Waters and Matt Kuhne both qualified for today's race, meaning 15-year-old Kuhne today became the youngest ever Australian to start a Grand Prix.

However, race day would dawn wet and cold, as had been feared, with all bets off as the red lights went out, at which point Stoner led the field around the high-speed turn one, ahead of Perugini, Kallio, Barbera, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Jenkner… although Dovizioso would fall at MG corner.

As early as the end of lap one home hero Stoner and series veteran Perugini had begun to pull a slight gap on third, now occupied by Barbera, while Assen winner (in the wet) Jenkner was soon challenging Kallio for fourth. Masao Azuma, another rain master, was also on form – putting his Honda into the top ten and rising.

Stoner gave the sheltering Aussie fans some comfort by keeping his #27 LCR Aprilia up front until lap 6 (of 23) when the rear of machine spun out as he climbed up towards Lucky Heights. The 18-year-old sprang to his feet to try and rejoin, but his yellow and white machine was going nowhere – leaving the unfortunate Casey devastated.

Perugini was thus gifted the lead, but was forced to take avoiding action to avoid the Aussie, reducing his lead to 5secs over AJO team-mates Andrea Ballerini and Azuma, with Barbera, Jenkner, Roberto Locatelli and his young team-mate Kallio chasing.

Kallio would be the next of the frontrunners to fall, the young Finn perhaps trying a bit too hard to keep up with his team-mate as he tumbled out on lap 11, while former 125cc champ 'Loca' was having the ride of his season – battling Barbera for fourth… until he fell three laps later.

Meanwhile Perugini, Ballerini and Azuma were now fighting for victory, with 30-year-old Ballerini contining to take chunks out of the Abruzzo backed rider's lead with every circulation. Indeed, by lap 14, Perugini's once 5secs lead had, unlike the water around him, evaporated.

Perugini held firm against his young countryman's onslaught for one and half laps, but that only allowed Azuma to catch up and make the fight a three way affair. Realising this, Ballerini put a firm move on Perugini to try and break away from the closing Azuma.

Having lost his lead, Perugini pushed hard to keep Azuma behind, but ultimately too hard and - after being kicked out of the seat once - he pushed his luck a little too hard and was thrown off properly soon after, handing Jenkner a potential podium.

Meanwhile, the Bridgestone backed Honda pair up front continued to circulate as if on a different circuit, Ballerini quickly building a 8secs lead over series veteran Azuma – who will retire at the end of the year – with the Japanese some 9secs ahead of Jenkner by the time they took the chequered flag.

Behind the top three, youngster Bautista rode the race of his life to pusheJenkner all the way to take an eventual fourth ahead of reining world champion Arnaud Vincent, Barbera, de Angelis and Lorenzo.

An amusing post race moment occurred when Ballerini, having kept his Honda on two-wheels through appalling conditions, then slipped over whilst celebrating his debut victory, and podium, with the jubilant Ajo team.

Full results to follow...

1. Ballerini
2. Azuma
3. Jenkner
4. Bautista
5. Vincent
6. Barbera
7. de Angelis
8. Lorenzo


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