Toni Elias dominated today's 250cc Japanese Grand Prix, leading by the end of lap one and then controlling the race at will to take his fourth win of the 2003 season.

Yesterday, Elias recovered from a crash early in the final qualifying session to set pole position on his last lap. In the absence of Elias and provisional pole setter Randy de Puniet, who also crashed early in the session, Franco Battaini looked on course for pole as he moved to the top of the time sheets in the final minutes.

However, whilst de Puniet was treated for a minor injury to his left heel, Elias returned to the track with a vengeance, wrestling his third consecutive pole position from the Italian.

de Puniet's time was still enough for third place though, as Sebastian Porto edged up onto the front row in fourth. A late effort from Sylvain Guintoli sealed the front place on the second row in fifth, just ahead of leading wild-card rider Hiroshi Aoyama.

Championship leader Manuel Poggiali would start from seventh, with Naoki Matsudo completing the second row at his home race in eighth. Wild-card riders Tomoyoshi Koyama and Yuki Takahashi, who crashed, are joined on the third row by Roberto Rolfo and Chaz Davies, who recorded his best ever qualifying result in twelfth.

When the red lights went out it was Porto who shot to the front around turn one, as a strong starting de Puniet ran wide, but the Argentinean himself would lose the lead soon after as Elias grabbed the advantage and by the time the quarter-litre field crossed the finish line at the end of the lap the order was: Elias, from Porto, Rolfo, de Puniet, Poggiali, Battaini, Aoyama, Takahashi, Koyama and Kameya.

In a repeat of the 125cc race, the Telefonica liveried machine up front was immediately breaking away from the field - and by lap 10 of 23, the Spaniard held a 3.818secs lead over the three-way fight for second between Porto, Rolfo and Poggiali. Meanwhile, the injured de Puniet was fading further back, and fell into the clutches of Aoyama and Takahashi one lap later.

Also in trouble were Campetella team-mate Battaini and Guintoli, who both fell out by the halfway point, while Ant West pulled into the pits after apparent overwhelming pain from his ankle injury.

But having no such problems was Elias who, at Honda's home circuit, continued to extend his lead at will over the following laps - while Poggiali rubbed further salt into the HRC wounds by moving his way past Rolfo and Porto for an Aprilia one-two with 7 laps to go.

Into the closing stages and Porto's day came to a violent end when he suffered a massive highside from fourth at the approach to the underpass, 'Sebas' somersaulting onto his back before slamming into the asphalt, and was fortunate to walk away unharmed.

The YPF Honda rider's departure left Poggiali and Rolfo to fight for second, while Bridgestone mounted wild-cards Takahashi and Aoyama had closed to within 3secs of the pair with two laps to go.

Onto the last lap and Rolfo had snatched a surprise move on Poggiali and was riding like his career depended on it (which it might with the Honda bosses watching) as he wrung all he could from his comparatively underpowered factory Fortuna machine.

The Italian's efforts would duly be rewarded with second, but 5secs up the road Elias was wheeling over the line after a seemingly effortless victory - if only he hadn't fallen in Rio...

The man who'd benefited most from Elias' exit last time out was championship leader Poggiali, and the San Marinese took another step towards his second world crown with third this afternoon, while Takahashi finished off the podium for the first time in a GP with fourth ahead of Japanese championship rival Aoyama.

Meanwhile, a brave de Puniet fought the pain for sixth ahead of Yamaha mounted Matsudo and Elias' team-mate Fonsi Nieto.

Full results to follow...

1. Elias
2. Rolfo
3. Poggiali
4. Takahashi
5. Aoyama
6. de Puniet
7. Matsudo
8. Nieto


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