Reigning 250cc world champion Marco Simoncelli is within sight of an unlikely title defence, after jumping to within 12 points of championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama with victory at Phillip Island on Sunday.

Aoyama came into the event 26 points ahead of nearest rival Alvaro Bautista and 28 points in front of Simoncelli, but was never in front-running contention on Sunday.

While his on-form Scot Honda team-mate Raffaele de Rosa reeled in race leaders Simoncelli, Hector Barbera and Bautista, Aoyama spent much of the event in a lowly seventh position.

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But the Japanese was thrown a lifeline when Bautista crashed from second after losing the front of his Aspar Aprilia at the Honda Hairpin with eight laps to go.

Jules Cluzel then crashed from fourth shortly after, a position Aoyama claimed moments later - but fortune swung away from Aoyama when the race was stopped following a nasty highside for Roberto Locatelli, which left the Italian veteran motionless on the track on the exit of the MG turn.

With the final result taken from the end of the previous lap, Cluzel was reinstated in the classification, while Aoyama - who looked to have pulled off a remarkable damage limitation exercise - was demoted back to seventh.

Meanwhile Simoncelli, who failed to score a single point in the first two rounds of the year, led from the end of lap one until the stoppage and was credited with victory by 2.434sec over Barbera.

Simoncelli, team-mate to Locatelli, has now won four of the last five races for Metis Gilera and has two rounds in which to overturn Aoyama's fragile advantage, starting next weekend in Malaysia.

de Rosa claimed his first ever grand prix podium - in his fifth season of world championship racing, but first in the 250cc class - with a well deserved third.

Bautista, who crashed out after an engine seizure at Estoril two weeks ago, rejoined to claim tenth. The Spaniard is now 29 points from Aoyama with 50 points remaining.

Alex Debon had taken the early race lead, but speared off at high-speed on the opening lap, dropping him to last. Debon recovered to 14th at the flag.

Race results - Phillip Island:

1. Simoncelli (Gilera)
2. Barbera (Aprilia) +2.434sec
3. de Rosa (Honda) +2.604sec
4. Cluzel (Aprilia) +12.118sec
5. di Meglio (Aprilia) +12.192sec
6. Abraham (Aprilia) +12.413sec
7. H. Aoyama (Honda) +12.455sec
8. Faubel (Honda) +13.112sec
9. Wilairot (Honda) +13.560sec
10. Bautista (Aprilia) +27.779sec