The race for the 1998 250 title was a three-way, in-house battle between Aprilia factory riders Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada, with rookie Valentino Rossi looming like the future. Then came the most talked-about last-corner controversy ever.
t the final race of season, on 25 October 1998, Buenos Aires, the 250 title came down to a winner-takes-all duel between the old-timers. Harada was ahead of Capirossi into the final corner, then the Italian knocked off his rival and took the title, while Rossi won the race. But was it deliberate?
Carlo Pernat: ‘1998 was the first time we had three different factory 250 teams at Aprilia. With Harada, Capirossi and Rossi we decided to make three different official teams because we had three riders with completely different minds. Imagine if we put all three in the same team; honestly, it wasn’t possible!’
Loris Capirossi: ‘It’s almost 20 years since that race. We have accidents all the time and yet everyone still talks about 1998. It pisses me off!’
Pernat: ‘Harada’s team, Rossi’s team and Capirossi’s team all thought that the others were getting better parts, but Jan Witteveen [Aprilia’s chief engineer] made sure all three had exactly the same.’
Capirossi: ‘When we arrived in Argentina I was leading Tetsuya by four points, so if he won the race and I was second, he would win the title. I got pole and in the race we were together. On the last lap I was in front, but I made a little mistake on a bump and went wide, so Valentino took the lead and Tetsuya was right on my back wheel. I didn’t want him there, so I let him overtake, because I knew I was faster in the final part of the lap.’
Pernat: ‘Harada was still ahead, with only one corner to go. What happened next wasn’t the fault of Capirossi. The mistake was made by Harada because when you are fighting for a title you don’t leave a space and go slow at the last corner, because if there’s another rider who wants to win the title he will try to overtake.’
'This is racing!'
Capirossi: ‘At the last corner it looked like Tetsuya was slower than normal and I saw a space on the inside, so I tried to overtake and we made contact. It was a racing incident – it was the last lap and we were fighting for a championship. This is racing!’
Pernat: ‘For sure, Loris didn’t make a normal entrance to the last corner. If Harada hadn’t been there to stop him, I think he would’ve ended up in the gravel! Anyway, Harada left a space, Loris went inside, they touched and Harada crashed. I won’t say that what Loris did was correct, because correct is too much, but it was a typical thing to do in a title battle.’
Capirossi: ‘The FIM took away my points, but I was still champion. Of course, I appealed. We went to court in Geneva, where they looked at our telemetry, which showed that my speed was the same as the lap before. So they gave me my points back.’
Pernat: ‘Loris had a three-year deal with Aprilia but they broke Loris’s contract and didn’t give him a ride for 1999. Loris went to court and won. Aprilia were told to pay him a penalty of two million Euros, so Loris bought a Ferrari with some of the money and put ‘Aprilia’ on the reg plate!’
Capirossi: ‘The incident was old-style racing. Tetsuya and I still live in Monaco and he’s one of my best friends. We see each other a lot – we go out to lunch, he comes to my house, I go to his house. We never talk about what happened.’