21 September 2002
Hollywood ending hands Azuma victory.
Meanwhile, up front Cecchinello worked his way past Talmacsi for second – but almost immediately the Italian lost the front of his Aprilia around a slow right-hander sending him in to the gravel. Cecchinello wouldn't take his hand off the clutch however, and was soon back on track.
Following Cecchinello into the gravel was Thomas Luthi, who had worked his way impressively into the top eight, before spiraling from his Honda and deep into the Rio gravel – although he too would return.
Although it couldn't be confirmed, a 'dry line' was starting to develop round the bumpy 4.933km circuit and it could have been the difference in grip levels between this and the otherwise wet track that was causing the 'offs' – and even if not, the wets would surely start to disintegrate later because of it…
By lap 6 (of 21), the Rio fans who had braved the conditions were witnessing a tense duel between Vincent and Poggiali, with just 0.5secs between them, for the lead of the Grand Prix, with the pair holding a 3 second lead over the battling Talmacsi, Barbera and Nieto – this was now a two horse race.
Over the following two laps Poggiali – surprisingly - continued to press Vincent, and indeed was crawling all over the Frenchman's rear wheel thanks to a series of fastest race laps, and by lap 9 Poggiali got a good slipstream down the pit straight and sliced into the lead at turn one.
Vincent responded immediately, and the San Marinese rider obliged by allowing the #21 machine back into the lead with little attempt to resist. This was repeated one lap later with the pair swapping places for the lead in exactly the same locations, as their lap times appeared to be slowing – were they playing games, or just looking after their tyres…?
Behind the pair, Pablo Nieto had put himself into a potential podium position after overtaking Talmacsi – but both were visibly swerving off line to find some tyre cooling water.
With 9 laps to go at least part of the track was now bone dry, leading those eagled eyed fans to search for those who had started with a dry set-up – of which Azuma and Perugini were prime suspects – which could have proved a brilliant decision. However, they were still down in seventh and eight places and would need to use any advantage quickly if they were to stop the top two.
No longer in contention for points was Youichi Ui, who unfortunately crashed out of eleventh on his 100 Grand Prix, while almost instantly a rain storm hit the Rio circuit once again, changing the conditions entirely, before disappearing almost as quickly.
Not that Poggiali and Vincent were worried though; the two were side by side at a handful of corners on every lap as the lead went back and forth like a Tennis ball – with just six laps to go.
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