Manuel Poggiali claimed his first ever World Championship with a measured ride to fifth place in tricky damp conditions in today's Rio Grand Prix.
The race was won by his sole championship rival Youichi Ui, but only after a thrilling last corner duel with Simone Sanna as the two finished over 27secs ahead of the final podium finisher Arnauld Vincent.
Youichi Ui must have been thinking about what might have been after setting a new pole record for the 125cc class yesterday as title rival Poggiali crashed out. The Japanese rider is without doubt the man of the moment in the eighth litre category – but his charge has surely come too late - Poggiali needed only to score more than three points today to win the title.
Other than the two championship contenders, Andrea Ballerini stood out from the crowd by qualifying second in what is only his second GP of the year, to outpace Telefonica teammates Pedrosa and Elias, third and fourth respectively.
However, any thoughts that Poggiali would simply need to cruise around the Nelson Piquet circuit to record a thirteenth placed finish - and with it his first World Championship, were thrown in doubt when rain fell this morning, with the track still wet (but drying) as the 500's completed their warm-up just prior to the 125 GP.
Poggiali's points lead was large, indeed Ui had to win today's race to have any chance of the title, but the San Marian would need to be careful in the unpredictably slippy conditions.
So, it was a particularly tense 125 grid that waited for the red lights to disappear for the final Grand Prix of 2001, and when the field were eventually released it was Ui who lead the field tentatively into the still damp turn one, with Poggiali having worked his way up to fourth after nearly colliding with Cecchinello off the start line.
Along the long back straight and Cecchinello slipstreamed his way up to second, before Ballerini retook the position towards the end of the first of twenty one laps.
Turning heads in the early stages was Stefano Perugini, the Italjet rider having stormed towards the front from a fourth row start, and by lap three the Italian was into second - and chasing race leader Ui.
Behind the #7 machine was Poggiali, while Cecchinello and Pedrosa, Vincent and Elias battled for fourth.