Early race leader Tetsuya Harada looked like having a fight on his hands to stop Daijiro Katoh carving through the field in today's 250cc Pacific Grand Prix at Motegi, but when second placed man Marco Melandri crashed from his Aprilia, Katoh found himself with no-where to go…
Harada had stolen the spotlight from Katoh during the two qualifying sessions, when the Aprilia rider had piped the World Championship leader by just 0.024secs for pole at their second home GP of the year, with another duel between the two expected this afternoon.
When the red lights disappeared it was Katoh who stormed away from the line best, but Harada regained the position around turn one, with Melandri soon following suite and passing the Honda rider, while McWilliams maintained fourth.
The two black MS Aprilias' continued to hold station at the front as the top three began to break away from McWilliams, on lap two of twenty-three, while Katoh's teammate Alzamora was now on the move – the ill Spaniard taking fifth from Matsudo just one lap later.
Alzamora eventually squeezed past the #99 machine at the end of lap four, and he soon began to close down the 2secs gap that had developed between fourth and third placed Katoh.
Lap 6 and drama in Motegi: Marco Melandri high sided from his Aprilia on the exit of a left hander - and was then struck and run over by the closely following Katoh. Both riders were sent somersaulting spectacularly through the gravel trap, with Katoh thankfully emerging unharmed, but the oft-injured Italian appeared in pain from his right wrist or shoulder, but was lucky to be able to walk away, even if his season may well be brought to a premature end as a result.
While all this was occurring McWilliams moved back ahead of Alzamora for what was now second (+6secs from Harada), with Matsudo fourth ahead of Rolfo, Nieto and Locatelli.
Harada continued on serenely up front as the halfway mark came and went, with McWilliams unable to peg the gap that had now grown to 7.5secs, the Ulsterman being more concerned with keeping Alzamora behind for the remaining 11 laps.
Into the closing stages and Harada was now over 10secs ahead, with the main battle at the front still between McWilliams and Alzamora for second, but Rolfo had cut the gap to less than 2secs and looked like joining the duo for a late race battle for the podium.
Onto the last lap and Harada was still safe while Alzamora out braked McWilliams at the end of the back straight, with the 37 year old immediately trying to respond through the Esses, but Alzamora held the inside firmly and went on to take second.
Meanwhile, race winner Harada cut the point's deficit to Katoh from 49 to 24, with 75 points still up for grabs in the final three races of the 2001 season.
Full results to follow…
2. Alzamora + 7.559secs
3. McWilliams +8.024secs
4. Nieto +11.462secs
5. Rolfo +11.733secs
6. Locatelli + 13.498secs
7. Matsudo +19.937secs
8. Battaini + 24.789secs