Having suffered the first retirement of his short, but illustrious, MotoGP career in Motegi one week ago, after tangling with the tumbling Marco Melandri, Daijiro Katoh returned to the top step of the podium for the ninth time this year at Phillip island today to increase his championship lead to 29 points with two races to go.

Tetsuya Harada had made an amazing comeback from an early crash to take pole from McWilliams in yesterday's final qualifying session, while long time pace setter and world championship leader Katoh was forced to settle for third on today's grid, ahead of 125ccc World Champion Roberto Locatelli.

When the 250cc field charged down into the fast sweeping turn one it was once again Katoh who got away best from the line - but Fonsi Nieto sliced inside Harada AND Katoh under braking for turn two to take the lead!

Meanwhile, chaos reigned behind as de Puniet, Porto, Battaini and Checa all fell like domino's as the field negotiated the following series of curves.

Back at the front and the two championship rivals were still chasing the Italian, with Harada slipping up the inside of Katoh at the tight right hand hairpin, before taking the lead soon after.

Katoh was eager to keep in touch with his countryman and quickly forced his way inside Nieto, before Harada made an uncharacteristic mistake under braking and allowed the #74 Honda into the lead.

Lap 5 of 25 and the order was: Katoh from Harada, Nieto, McWilliams, Rolfo, Locatelli, Alzamora and Guintoli.

One lap later and Katoh was charging up front as he set fastest lap times in an attempt to pull away from Harada's MS Aprilia that would see the Honda put almost 1sec of Phillip Island race track between himself and the black machine at the completion of the 4.448km lap.

Behind the top two, Robby Rolfo and McWilliams were battling tooth and nail for fourth as the pair of them closed on Nieto, and by lap 8 there was next to nothing between the three machines.

By lap ten the race had been split into two distinct battles, 4secs apart; one for the lead between Katoh and Harada (+1.5secs), while the final podium place was shaping up for a titanic fight between (respectively) Rolfo, McWilliams, Nieto, Locatelli and Alzamora.

Just two laps later and the although the top two remained clear of field (with Katoh ever extending his advantage), Rolfo had by now broken away in third and in pursuit of Harada, while Nieto, Locatelli, McWilliams and Alzamora chased.

By lap 20 of 25 Katoh had stretched his lead to an untouchable 7.5secs while Rolfo capitalised on Katja Poensgen holding up Harada while she was being lapped to put him 3.2secs behind his fellow Aprilia rider, with Nieto, McWilliams and Alzamora all separated by less than a second in the fight for fourth.

As the laps wound down Harada closed the gap slightly to his countryman, prompted by the pressure from Rolfo, but Katoh just seemed to be pacing his way to the finish - and a 5 point increase in his lead (to 29) over the MS Aprilia rider.

Onto the last lap and the first three places looked decided, but the fight for fourth was still well and truly on between Nieto, McWilliams and Alzamora. Indeed it would be the gritty Ulsterman who stole fourth from the Italian after putting in his best lap of the race on the very last of the Grand Prix.

Full results to follow...

1. Katoh
2. Harada +5.664secs
3. Rolfo +8.518secs
4. McWilliams +14.303secs
5. Nieto +14.389secs
6. Alzamora +14.749secs
7. Locatelli +17.546secs
8. Boscoscuro +37.636secs


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