Daijiro Katoh resisted race long pressure from countryman Tetsuya Harada to win today's 250cc Catalan Grand Prix by just 0.114secs, with the pair rarely separated by more than a tenth of a second over 23 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya.

Katoh had looked as though his Mugello disaster was firmly behind him as he dominated both qualifying sessions to take pole ahead of countryman - and Mugello winner - Tetsuya Harada, with Fonsi Nieto and Marco Melandri completing the front row.

However, as the red lights went out it was Melandri who made the best start, and with Harada also making a good getaway it was an Aprilia one-two heading into the first corner, with Katoh demoted to third.

Also losing out was Jeremy McWilliams, who dropped from fifth on the grid to eleventh around the first chicane after another poor getaway, but the Ulsterman was soon battling his way back up the field.

Meanwhile, along the main straight for the start of lap two and Harada took the lead, with Katoh blasting past Melandri for second and teammate Alzamora following suite soon after, protecting the championship leaders position.

By lap four Katoh had put his Honda into the lead ahead of Harada, while Melandri had retaken third from Alzamora.

There then followed a game of cat and mouse that would last until the end of the race as Katoh desperately tried to break away from Harada, while the ex-250cc champion fought to stay close enough to benefit from Katoh's slipstream - vital along the main straight.

Lap 6 and the main battle was now for fourth between Roberto Rolfo and Alzamora, the Italian podium finisher in Mugello now carving through the field on the #44 Aprilia and soon homing in on third placed Melandri.

By lap eight Katoh had failed to shrug off his 31 year old countryman, and Harada was now starting to pull out the Honda's slipstream along the main straight - not to pass - but seemingly to test his Aprilia's straight line speed, which appeared to be slower than the leading #74 machine.

Lap 9 of 23 and Katoh - unusually - made a mistake while exiting the first chicane, as his blue and red Telefonica Honda bobbled slightly, along Harada into the lead. However, any ideas that Katoh would now follow the MS Aprilia were soon dismissed as he sliced confidently back in front just a few corners later.

By now the top three: Katoh, Harada and Melandri were beginning to pull a lead over Rolfo, followed by Alzamora, Locatelli and McWilliams.

Lap 11 and Melandri, who had run wide onto the grass just a lap earlier, lost the front of his Aprilia into the long left hander at the end of the back straight, leaving the young Italian in the gravel trap and his podium chances at an end.

Melandri's misfortune promoted Rolfo to third (4secs behind Harada), and left the two Japanese riders - still nose-to-tail at the front - to fight it out alone, in a tense repeat of the 125cc race.

Katoh continued to count down the laps at the front, while the wily Harada stayed glued to the Honda's rear all around the challenging 4.727km circuit, waiting for his moment.

By lap 18 of 23 Harada was starting to look more threatening - taking different lines into corners, and pulling out of Katoh's slipstream occasionally - but he clearly had no intention of seizing the lead just yet.

Meanwhile, McWilliams and Alzamora were having one of the best battles of the race for fourth, with the pair passing and re-passing each other, but neither was able to break away and Nieto had now joined the fight.

Into the last two laps and Katoh was going faster than ever up front - but Harada was matching him - and the gap between the Japanese aces was never more than 0.1secs. Onto the last lap and Harada slipstreamed Katoh along the main straight, but Katoh braked frighteningly late to hold on.

Harada hung on, and with less than half a lap left, looked up the inside at the end of the back straight - but again Katoh out-braked his countryman.

That left just the final two fast right handers before the finish: Harada looked desperately for a way past, but Katoh was not to be beaten and Harada shook his head disappointingly as he crossed the line just 0.114secs behind the Honda, before congratulating his countryman on a hard earned victory.

Full results to follow...

1. Katoh
2. Harada +0.114secs
3. Rolfo +12.573secs
4. Locatelli +19.077secs
5. Nieto +22.776secs
6. McWilliams +22.858secs
7. Alzamora +22.876secs
8. de Puniet +31.224secs



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