20 October 2002
Melandri wins 250 title – by 0.007secs!
By lap 4 Nieto had closed any advantage Melandri had built up, and the two dominating forces I 250cc racing were soon nose-to-tail, where they would remain to the flag. Nieto soon capitalized on a useful slipstream down the Gardner straight and to take the lead for the first time – only for Melandri to retaliate at the Honda hairpin a few turns later – where Roberto Locatelli would crash out seconds later when his bike appeared to seize and throw him un ceremoniously down the road.
Back up front the top two seemed to be playing games with each other as they took turns to let the other by in an increasingly brutal battle. Behind them, by lap 13 of 23, Elias was loosing touch with Rolfo and Porto, leaving the Motegi winner to cruise to a safe fifth.
By contrast Melandri appeared to be trying to break Nieto, and set a series of ultra fast laps that saw him quickly build an advantage of 0.3, 0.5, 0.57secs – only for Nieto to pin his throttle, set a new fastest lap, a close to within a tenth by lap 18.
Meanwhile, 14th placed Jay Vincent had a lucky escape when he crashed from a points finish on his BQR Honda, landing in the middle of the track and sending the following riders scattering to avoid him – fortunately all did so.
5 to go and Nieto was now leading once again, and it was his turn to try and break away as he punched out fastest laps once again – but Melandri, perhaps predictably, responded and while the third placed fight was now a distant 6secs back, the top could be separated only by a micrometer.
Onto the penultimate lap and Melandri plunged inside Nieto at the first turn, but Nieto seemed to have let him by and followed Marco's every move for the reminder of the 4.448km lap, before regaining the lead.
As they started their final circulation their was still nothing between them, and Melandri didn't wait long to make the move he needed to give him the title as he chopped across Nieto into turn two. But the Spaniard wasn't having any of it and forced his way back in front at the Honda hairpin – then Melandri dived inside – only for Nieto to retaliate! It was all to play for with less than half a lap to go…
The crucial move came when as the pair swept up and over Lukey heights and towards the MG hairpin: Nieto took a defensive line but Melandri pulled out a do–or-die move around the outside, which became the inside at the hairpin, to lead into the long, double apex, final turn.
Nieto looked to have got a better drive out – and looked like he may have got the run on Melandri to the flag – but the Italian ducked down behind his MS machines fairing and held on to take the win and world title – by just 0.007secs.
Having been forced to delay his celebrations after his Sepang electrical failure, Melandri couldn't contain himself at finally wrapping the crown up, and was soon punching the air with delight before a burn-out and 'mugging' by his ecstatic friends who soon had him fitted with a celebratory T-shirt and 'MM' flag.
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