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250cc World Championship 2002 season review

250cc World Championship 2002 season review

250cc World Championship 2002 season review

After a 250cc World Championship dominated by two riders in 2001, the 2002 season promised to be an open affair, as Daijiro Kato and Tetsuya Harada stepped up to ride in MotoGP and left Marco Melandri as the only man to have previously scored victory in the quarter-litre class. The Italian was the automatic favourite for the title on his factory Aprilia, but his notoriously inconsistent nature cast a doubt over his title credentials in the opening quarter of the season, as Spanish hopeful Fonsi Nieto took the initiative in impressive style.

After a first race washout which saw wildcard riders Miyazaki and Sakai storm to the top of the podium at rain-soaked Suzuka, Melandri dominated from start to finish in the second race at Welkom but crashed out on the final lap at Jerez and was powerless to prevent Nieto from taking a maiden victory in front of his home fans. Nieto made it two in a row at Le Mans to consolidate an early championship lead, whilst second place for Melandri moved him up to fourth in the rider standings behind the early season consistency of Honda team-mates Roberto Rolfo and Emilio Alzamora.$$$ His home Grand Prix at Mugello brought the best out of Marco Melandri, who won a thrilling battle to the line with Roberto Locatelli and Fonsi Nieto to take the third win of his career and put his title challenge back on track. With confidence at a premium, he went on to make it six straight victories at Catalunya, Assen, Donington, Sachsenring and Brno and opened up a 37 point advantage over the Spaniard with six rounds remaining.

Nieto took a brave victory after falling and remounting in a crash-strewn wet race at Estoril but Melandri was riding for the championship and he followed up second place in Portugal with a safe performance in similar conditions at Rio two weeks later. Nieto made a bad start and then crashed out of an impressive comeback as Sebastian Porto streaked to his first ever Grand Prix victory in the Brazilian rain, whilst Melandri consolidated fourth place to restore a comfortable series lead of 45 points.

The final quarter of the season saw the emergence of an exciting new talent, as teenage 250 rookie Toni Elias beat Melandri in the most exciting race of the season to clinch his first ever win in the series at Motegi. Nieto had finished back in a distant fourth, but his title hopes were thrown a lifeline on the following Sunday at Sepang, as Melandri retired on the first lap with electrical problems and Elias obeyed team orders, escorting his compatriot to the chequered flag for maximum points.

Nieto needed similar good fortune or a victory at Phillip Island in the penultimate round in order to take Melandri back to a last race showdown on home territory at Valencia, and he could not have given any more to the cause in a 25-lap head to head which swung in favour of the Italian by just 0.007 seconds on the finish line. The 20 year old became the youngest ever 250cc World Champion with his eighth win of the season and a repeat performance in the Spanish sunshine two weeks later put the gloss on his first ever world title.

250cc, 2002

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