Toni Elias took a thrilling first 250cc victory on the very last corner of today's Pacific Grand Prix, after a tense late race battle with Marco Melandri and spectacular wild card Yuki Takahashi - who proved he's a star of the future by finishing on the podium in his first ever 250 GP.

Yesterday, Fonsi Nieto had pulled out a stunning last lap effort to deprive runaway championship leader Marco Melandri of pole by just 0.101secs, surprising the Italian who had taken the overnight initiative on Friday.

Also not to be discounted today were the Japanese wild cards - led by fourth fastest Yuki Takahashi, who if he should finish in the top three places would be the third youngest rider ever to finish on the podium of a 250cc GP,, after Marco Melandri and Mike Hailwood. Meanwhile the explosive Randy de Puniet, who has only finished twice in the last six races, would start from third - in what would be the 600th 250cc Grand Prix.

Importunely for de Puniet, he would not get a chance to ride with the front runners after his Aprilia refused to start on the grid - leaving the furious Frenchman to take his place at the end of the pitlane and thus start from the tail of the pack.

When the red lights went out it was all action as although Melandri made a smooth getaway from second to lead the field - Yuzy and Nigon sent off into the gravel at the turn one hairpin, with both staying on board, while Nieto, Alzamora, Porto and Takahashi chased the leader.

As early as the second lap, Takahashi was banging bars (unsuccessfully) with Elias for sixth on his red HRC sponsored machine. Meanwhile, de Puniet's day was going from bad to worse as he firstly exited the pitlane before the lights were green, then outbraked himself out on track - running into the gravel - before retiring.

Back up front and it was still Melandri, Nieto, Alzamora, Elias and the excellent Takahashi - now the fastest man on the track, and ably following the charging Elias through the field - the Spaniard would pass Alzamora for third on lap 5, with Nieto, Elias and Takahashi soon nose-to-tail.

Elias then outbraked his team-mate into the tricky downhill off camber right hander, but showing he was by no means overawed by the GP competition, Takahashi also took advantage of Nieto's lose of momentum to take third from the GP winner. Elias and Takahashi then set about catching the black and silver Aprilia - and by lap 11 Elias was close enough to make a move, only for Melandri to firmly shut the door - giving Takahashi a chance to threaten the Telefonica rider, but the Spaniard was having none of it.

The two Europeans continued to fight for the GP lead in the closest 250cc race for a long time, while Tady Okada's HRC prot?g?e continued to lean his prototype #72 machine in all sorts of amazing angles all around the stop-go 4.8km circuit.

Further back in the pack, Leon Haslam became the unfortunate victim of someone else's crash when twentieth placed Hugo Marchand dropped his Aprilia right in front of the Brit's privateer Honda leaving him no-where to go and he was duly collected by the bouncing Aprilia. Haslam would rejoin briefly but his bike was irrapaieably damaged.

Lap 14 and Takahashi was now into second and chasing the first 250cc wildcard GP victory since none other than Daijiro Kato at Suzuka in 1997, as well as embarrassing factory Honda regulars Rolfo (eighth) and Alzamora (fifth). The Japanese was soon all over the rear of Melandri's Aprilia and looking for a mistake from the hard fighting Italian - who was now looking over his shoulder in apprehension, while just 0.6secs covered the top three.

Unable to negotiate the MS Aprilia rider, Takahashi found himself under pressure from an increasingly determined Elias, and the pair soon began an extraordinary fight as they chopped inside and outside each other for several corners in a great show of race craft.

Lap 20 of 23 and Melandri proved his World Championship credentials by pulling out one of the quickest laps of the race as he sought to break Elias. The pressure soon told on Takahashi and almost instantly he fell away from the leaders safe in the knowledge of a sensational podium finish should he stay on to the end.

But that wasn't enough for Elias and he soon matched Melandri, with the pair circulating almost 1sec faster than the rest of the field over the next two laps.

Onto the last lap and there was nothing between the two teenagers; Elias made his move early by diving inside Melandri just before the underpass - but Melandri had it covered and cut back inside.

Elias then dived inside again - but again ran wide - so handing Melandri a much needed advantage - only for him to run wide, leaving the top almost touching with just a few corners to go! Melandri took a defensive line into the last complex, but it allowed Elias to gain momentum with just the last chicane to go...

Melandri held a tight line into the first part of the left-right flick - but Elias went around the outside and neatly cut inside Melandri at the last part of the chicane to take a stunning first 250cc victory.

Behind the two Takahashi duly completed the podium - 5.6secs behind Elias - and MotoGP may well be seeing a lot more of the 18 year old (currently just seventh in the Japanese 250cc championship) in the future. Fonsi Nieto finished a distant fourth.

"It is incredible for me. I started badly due to my hard tyre, then at the end I fought with Melandri who's a hard rider. I'm very happy with my first 250 win," smiled Elias in the post race press conference.

Melandri, now 52 points clear of Nieto in the championship, sportingly praised his rival: "It was a difficult race because I had a very soft tyre and couldn't get away. On the last lap I couldn't tell where Elias was. I thought he was on the inside at the last chicane but he went outside - I was sleeping! Congratulations to Toni because he was very correct and it was a great race."

The quietly confident Takahashi summed up his race: "It was a big opportunity for me and Honda so I'm very happy to have made the best of it."

Full results to follow...

1. Elias
2. Melandri
3. Takahashi
4. Nieto
5. Alzamora
6. Rolfo
7. Battaini
8. Porto


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