Aprilia and Tetsuya Harada finally broke the Katoh/Honda stranglehold on the 250cc championship with a dominant win in a wet Italian Grand Prix - which saw two other Aprilia stars crash out and Katoh finish just ninth.

Main news on race morning was that Marcellino Lucchi would be starting the race, from second behind Harada, despite breaking bones in his foot during one of his two crashes yesterday.

As the field made their way around the parade lap, it was clear that the rain, which had delayed the 125cc race, was now no better and it would be a wet race in the true sense of the word.

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The red lights went out and Franco Battaini lost control of his Aprilia - spinning out on the grid! Luckily the rest of the field missed him and it was Lucchi who led around the first corner, from McWilliams, Matsudo, Harada and Locatelli - but where was Katoh?

The answer was way, way down the field. The dominant force in 250cc racing this year was down in eighteenth place - eleven seconds behind Lucchi after the first lap, despite appearing to get a reasonable start. Katoh's downward spiral implying a rather risky tyre choice.

Meanwhile, Harada had moved past Matsudo into third and began to look at getting around McWilliams. Harada attempted to pass his fellow Aprilia on the start/finish straight - but McWilliams refused to budge. However Harada moved ahead of the #99 machine later in the lap, and the three predominately black machines began to pull away from Matsudo's turquoise machine in fourth.

Lap 4 and Harada led briefly across the timing beam, before Lucchi out-braked his teammate into the first turn to regain the advantage.

One alp later and fourth placed starter Randy de Puniet 'introduced' his Aprilia to the gravel trap - with Lucchi doing the same seconds later, the Italian veteran losing the front wheel, the lead of his home GP, and having his third big crash of the weekend in the process.

Then McWilliams, who had inherited second, threw his Aprilia down the road with a similar incident - the front washing away and sending the Ulsterman into the gravel.

Lap 6 and Battaini lost his MS Aprilia under braking - his out-of-control bike spinning down the track and hitting Sebastien Porto, taking him out of the race also.

Lap 8 of 21 and Roberto Rolfo sliced ahead of Matsudo for second, just over 7secs behind Harada, with a classic slipstreaming move along the main straight, while Katoh was still down in seventeenth.

By lap 10 a definite dry line was starting to develop on the Mugello circuit, as the Italian sun began to shine through the previously dense, black clouds, swinging the balance towards Katoh. At the front this coincided with 'Robby' Rolfo closing the gap to leader Harada, as the young Italian set the fastest laps of the race in pursuit of the canny MotoGP veteran, who soon responded to the challenge.

So, by the midpoint in the race the order was: Harada, Rolfo, Matsudo, Locatelli, Melandri, Nieto, Alzamora and Checa, while Katoh was still nearly a minute behind in fourteenth.

Lap 14 and Matsudo fell from third on the Petronas Yamaha, handing third to Melandri (who had now overtaken Locatelli) and Aprilia an all top five, as the sun continued to shine.

Lap 17 of 21 and Harada maintained control at the front, even setting the fastest race lap as he increased his lead to over 9 seconds, on the #31 Aprilia. By contrast Katoh was frantically trying to move further up the points, overtaking Matsudo for seventh, and setting his sights on Alex Debon.

Into the last lap and Harada's lead was over 10secs, on the now nearly dry track, and the Japanese star counted down the corners to popular home win for Aprilia. Harada duly crossed the line ahead of a just as happy Rolfo, who took his first ever podium finish, while Melandri made it two Aprilia's on the podium by crossing the line in third.

Katoh, by contrast, crossed the line in tenth, after a dismal day for the Honda hero, who nevertheless keeps his point's lead - but is now just 5 ahead of Harada.

Full results to follow....

1. Harada
2. Rolfo +12.729secs
3. Melandri +37.673secs
4. Locatelli +43.860secs
5. Nieto +47.149secs
6. Alzamora +54.884secs
7. Checa +57.903secs
8. Debon +59.092secs