World Champion Mickael Pichon continued in Bulgaria today his 2002 domination by winning the 250cc Grand Prix, his fourth in a row, and extending his Championship points advantage to one race.
The Eastern European round of the 12-race series took place under almost unbearable conditions that saw scorching temperatures by the time of the 125cc event at 3:00 p.m. The sun took its toll on many riders and provided a true physical test over each 35-minute, plus two-lap race distance.
In the opening moto, the premier 250cc classification, Pichon kept a comfortable distance from fellow Frenchman Fred Bolley and eased away to a nine-second race-winning margin. Pichon's easy style of victory has been very much a hallmark of the quarter-litre contest over the last season and a half and perfectly showed the all-conquering synergy he enjoys with the factory Suzuki.
With the French duo securing the top two positions early in the event, the battle for third provided some fantastic entertainment, with Josh Coppins finally beating his Honda teammate Pit Beirer and Kawasaki's Andrew McFarlane. Beirer actually faded at the end of the race and settled for sixth behind Alessio Chiodi, who enjoyed a decent comeback ride after missing two GPs through a back injury. Jamie Dobb was the only factory rider to crash, and his spill at the highest point of the circuit on lap five meant he had to scrable for a respectable result of 10th after being down in 21st.
Pichon has now equaled the most GP wins by a French rider, the amount of 20 held also by Sebastien Tortelli, and has also accumulated six victories from seven so far this term.
"Of course it's great to win four races in a row, and it's the first time for me, but the Championship is the most important thing, and today I gained another five points over Josh," Pichon said. "I'm happy to win in these conditions because once again it shows that with Team Suzuki I can win at any track. I had a bit of pressure today because twice last year I won three in a row but couldn't get the fourth; now the goal is to go for a fifth and maybe even more!"
Joel Smets ended two months of misery and a four-race barren spell to notch his third win of the season this afternoon. The factory KTM rider caught and passed hole-shotter and earlier leader Javier Garcia Vico and defended a three-second cushion until the last five minutes, when the Spanish champ reduced the deficit and set up a thrilling final few laps, akin to the drama of Austria two weeks ago when Stefan Everts pipped Yves Demaria on the last corner. This time Vico's attempt to re-gain the lead on the penultimate circulation was thwarted by the Belgian, and Smets went on to gain his first race success since round two in Spain.
Everts completed the podium and continues his 100-percent top-three result record over seven races. The current World Champion also increased his lead in the standings over teammate Marnicq Bervoets, who claimed fourth, to 25 points. Smets trailed Everts by 52 points before travelling to Bulgaria and sliced only five from that amount today; he resides in fourth overall.
Roman Jelen and Danny Theybers both gained their best results of the season with fifth and sixth, respectively.
Veteran racer Alex Puzar won his first race in three and a half years today when he guided his Husqvarna to victory in the 125cc Grand Prix. Racing in the hottest temperatures of the day, many riders in the junior class simply could not cope with the heat, but wily three-time World Champion Puzar, aged 33, defeated the challenge of early leader Ben Townley and a late-race surge from Philippe Dupasquier to triumph in his first GP success since Spain in 1998. Townley eventually had to settle for third behind the Swiss rider.
The two main contenders for the Championship, Mickael Maschio and Patrick Caps, both had disappointments this afternoon. Maschio got another poor start and crashed out from 13th on lap five. He was struck by another rider and was forced to retire; luckily, he limped back to the pit without major injury. Caps also fell; on the second lap he plummeted from ninth to 21st and recovered to take 12 points for ninth. Maschio still heads the standings but now by only three points ahead of Caps and five points in front of Puzar and Dupasquier, who are tying for third. Pole-position-holder Steve Ramon dropped from fourth to sixth in the last two laps and had to be taken to hospital, suffering from exhaustion, as he collapsed on the pitwall mere meters from the finish line.