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Honda aiming for double figures in Catalunya

Honda aiming for double figures in Catalunya

Honda aiming for double figures in Catalunya

The chase for the MotoGP World Championship gathers pace this weekend, with time running out for Honda´s rivals as the Japanese factory look to consolidate their title credentials with a tenth consecutive victory in the top class. Valentino Rossi has taken four wins from the first five rounds in 2002, with the remainder going to his team-mate Tohru Ukawa, building on four straight wins at the end of 2001 and extending his employers´ third longest sequence of victories ever.

The formidable combination of Rossi and the RC211V machine will be particularly tough to beat at Montmeló, with the Repsol Honda squad completing hundreds of laps over the winter period having nominated it as one of their testing tracks. Furthermore, Rossi has won in Catalunya on four occasions, riding a 125 machine in 1997 and on a 250 in both 1998 and 1999. His win in 500 last year made him the first rider to have won in all three classes at the circuit, and he could extend that record to the four-stroke 990cc RC211V this weekend.

Aside from Rossi´s Japanese team-mate, title challengers are at last emerging in the shape of resurgent Yamaha M1 duo Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa. Biaggi took his second consecutive podium position in Mugello after challenging the World Champion for the victory, and will have mixed feelings about riding in Catalunya. The Italian has had four wins and four pole positions in the 250 class here and took second place in the 500 race last year. However, he was also disqualified in 1998 for ignoring a stop and go penalty and crashed out of the race in 1999.

Checa has also been in the podium hunt for the last two races, but he crashed out four weeks ago in Le Mans and was just beaten to third spot in Mugello by Ukawa. The Catalan rider scored his first ever win at his home circuit in 1996 and will be roared on by around 85,000 fanatical supporters as he looks for his first victory since 1998 on Sunday. Checa will battle for home favoritism with Suzuki rider Sete Gibernau, who crashed out at Mugello along with team-mate Kenny Roberts.

The two-stroke battle again promises to provide a race within a race as Honda and Yamaha go head to head once more. Daijiro Kato, who won the 250 race here last year, is looking to make up ground after two consecutive crashes, whilst fellow Honda riders Loris Capirossi and Alex Barros both have extra motivation for success. Capirossi's sixth place finish at Mugello made him only the fifth rider ever to have scored a career total of 2000 points or more in all solo classes of Grand Prix racing, whilst Barros is hoping to celebrate his 200th GP start with a first podium of the season.

Leading the Yamaha charge is Norick Abe, the top two-stroke rider in the current World Championship classification. The Japanese rider has had two podium finishes in Catalunya in the past four years and has fought bravely against the four-stroke revolution this season, finishing each race in the top seven and twice in the top five. Abe is also one of just five riders to have scored points in every MotoGP race this year; the others being Rossi, Capirossi, John Hopkins and Regis Laconi, who scored the best result of the year for the new Aprilia RS3 in Italy with eighth place.

MotoGP, 2002, Gran Premi Marlboro de Catalunya

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