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GP Week : Issue 66
DEFENDING champion Marco Simoncelli (Metis Gilera) claimed a fifth win of the season and gave his title hopes a major boost in Portugal, while second-placed Alvaro Bautista crashed out and points leader Hiro Aoyama could do no better than fourth. The lion-maned Simoncelli seized control on the fourth of 26 laps, and fended off a battling duo of Mike di Meglio (Mapfre Aspar Aprilia) and pole starter Hector Barbera (Pepe World Aprilia). By half distance, he had pulled clear of the pair, and kept on charging to win by better than five seconds. Asked if he felt he was back in the title chase, he said: "I prefer to say not, because every time I say yes I make a mistake at the next race. For the moment, I prefer to think race by race." His two rivals were at it to the finish, with di Meglio pulling alongside past the flag. It looked as though the impressive class rookie and reigning 125 champion had done enough, but the electronics at first gave second to Barbera by one thousandth of a second. Then it changed, with both riders credited with the same time and a photo-finish showed a dead heat. Second was given to the Frenchman by virtue of a faster best lap during the race. Championship hopes remain alive also for Aoyama (Scot Honda). Starting from the front row he had dropped back to seventh in the early laps, but he kept on while rival Bautista (Mapfre Aspar Aprilia) went flying on the fifth lap. He got two places back through crashes, then promptly moved past Jules Cluzel (Matteoni Aprilia), holding him at bay to the finish. Cluzel was engaged in a race-long battle with Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda), and they finished fifth and sixth. Bautista's very costly crash came after he had led the first three laps. He had just conceded to Simoncelli and lost another two places to a charging Scot Honda junior Raffaele de Rosa and Barbera when he fell under braking. His motor had locked solid, and he had no chance. One lap later de Rosa, lying second, also fell -- one of eight to crash out on the tricky and bumpy track. The title chase has now got closer still. Aoyama still leads on 218, 26 points clear of no-score Bautista (192). But Simoncelli now has 190 points, and is a serious threat. Barbera has 174 and Pasini, eighth today, is on 128. 250: closer as Bautista falls again 40