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Rivals looking to haul back Honda at Mugello

Rivals looking to haul back Honda at Mugello

Rivals looking to haul back Honda at Mugello

The MotoGP World Championship arrives in Tuscany this weekend with Honda looking to defend a healthy points advantage and a formidable record at the Mugello circuit. The Japanese factory have won the premier-class race at the Italian venue on nine successive occasions, with leading rider Valentino Rossi coinciding with two of those victories on a 125 in 1997 and on a 250 in 1999, when riding for Aprilia. The World Champion heads for his home race in stunning form, having taken four pole positions, three wins and one second place from the first four Grand Prix of the season.

There were signs at Le Mans a fortnight ago, however, that competition is building. For the first time in the new MotoGP class, the front row was made up entirely of four-stroke machinery, whilst just 2.215 seconds covered all qualifiers, making it the closest ever grid in the 53-year history of the series. The Yamaha M1 machines kept pace with the Hondas during the race, with Max Biaggi taking his first podium of the season in third place and just 36.574 seconds separating race winner Rossi from Jose Luis Cardoso in last place.

Biaggi also finished third at Mugello last year in a wet race won by Alex Barros. The Italian, who crashed out in 2000 on the last lap when fighting for the win, has won the 250 race here three times and this weekend is aiming to be the first Yamaha rider to win here since Wayne Rainey in 1991. Meanwhile Suzuki, who won here in 1992 with Kevin Schwantz, are looking to build on their best ever dry weather result for the four-stroke GSV-R thanks to Kenny Roberts' fifth place finish in France.

The only Italian rider to have won in the premier class of Grand Prix racing at Mugello is Loris Capirossi. The gritty rider guided the NSR500 to the top of the podium in 2000 and finished a close second to his team-mate Alex Barros last season. Loris also won the 250 race at Mugello in 1993 riding a Honda but will have his work cut out this time around as the two-strokes continue to fade .

Aside from the Honda Pons duo, Norick Abe has been the top two-stroke Yamaha rider in three of the first four races of the year and finished just 1.707 seconds off winner Rossi as he guided the YZR500 to fourth in Le Mans. Fifth place in 2000 is Abe's best result from seven starts at Mugello.

MotoGP, 2002, Gran Premio Cinzano d'Italia

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