15 June 2003
De Puniet defeats Nieto for first GP victory.
Meanwhile, by the midway point, Elias was making the comeback of all comebacks to sit in fifth – just 2.8secs behind race leader de Puniet – with impressive Aussie West (4th), Nieto (3rd) and Poggiali (2nd) also between Elias and victory... but not for long as points leader Poggiali's MS Aprilia ground to a halt with total power loss soon after.
That left de Puniet and Nieto separated by 0.7secs up front, with West now just 0.5secs behind Angel Nieto's nephew - and less than a second clear of the charging Elias - with Matsudo doggedly hanging on behind Elias on his aging Yamaha.
But thereafter Elias' efforts seemed to make increasingly little impact on the three ahead of him and instead it was West who actually looked the most threatening, crawling all over Nieto with six laps to go, while de Puniet was just a second further up the road.
Into the last three laps and the top two had stepped it up to all-or-nothing pace, dropping West slightly to give two distinct battles: One for victory, and the other for the final podium place.
Nieto slipstreamed into the lead at the end of the main straight, possibly showing his cards too early to the debut victory chasing de Puniet. Certainly Nieto was unable to drop the French pole sitter and the LCR rider grabbed the lead on the back straight to lead over the line to start the final lap.
De Puniet rocketed out of the final turn to hold firm along the home straight and into turn one, but Nieto was soon back on his rear wheel. However the Frenchman was faultless through the final half lap, despite the pressure, and swept to his well-deserved, and overdue, first ever GP victory by 0.244secs over a clearly, and deliberately, downbeat Nieto. It would later emerge that he thought there was still one more lap to go...
Regardless, West took a much-deserved third to complete the podium after his best ever GP finish date on his privateer Aprilia, keeping charging Catalan Elias 2secs behind at the flag, while Matsudo brought his Yamaha home in fifth.
Today's result means Elias is now just 7 points behind Poggaili.
Full results to follow...
1. de Puniet
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