2 November 2003
de Puniet wins, Poggiali world champion.
Randy de Puniet held off a charging Toni Elias to take a hard earned victory in today's 250cc Valencia Grand Prix, but main news was that Manuel Poggiali has become the third youngest 250cc world champion ever (behind Melandri and Rossi) by finishing the season ending GP a safe third, four places clear of title rival Rolfo, to become the first quarter-litre class rookie to take the crown since Tetsuya Harada in 1993.
Yesterday, Randy de Puniet took pole after a battle with French compatriot Sylvain Guintoli and home favourite Toni Elias. However, the focus of attention was undoubtedly on the only remaining title contenders, Manuel Poggiali and Roberto Rolfo.
Whilst series leader Poggiali, who took a seven point advantage into today's showdown, shook off flu symptoms to qualify fourth fastest, Rolfo struggled to find a set-up for his Honda and could only manage tenth.
Poggiali would start from the outside of the front row behind fellow Aprilia riders De Puniet, Elias and Guintoli, whilst Rolfo needed to make his charge from the third row behind factory colleague Sebastian Porto.
Local favourites Alex Debon and Fonsi Nieto qualified in fifth and seventh respectively to seal second row starts alongside Franco Battaini and Naoki Matsudo.
However, there was drama in the morning warm-up when Poggiali rammed the back of Christian Gemmel, sending them both tumbling into the gravel – denting the San Marinese rider's confidence and possibly forcing him onto his spare machine and perhaps levelling the playing field slightly…
But when the red lights went out momentum swung the other way when Rolfo made a shocking start, slipping to 11th, while Poggiali slotted into fifth behind flying Frenchman de Puniet (leading), Nieto, Elias and Debon.
De Puniet would storm away in the early laps, helped more than a little by Repsol Aprilia team-mates Nieto and Elias attempting to assassinate each other at almost every turn as they fought for the home fans affection, while Debon was also looking combative – refusing to let Poggiali pass, and soon crawling all over third placed man Nieto ahead.
But by lap 4, Poggiali seemed to have got over his initial apprehension and was soon looking back to his best as the San Marinese carved his way past his immediate rivals to take third – with second placed Elias now 4.4secs further up the road and trying to keep on terms with de Puniet (1sec further ahead).
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