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Mick Doohan speaks out before the first GP of 2003

Mick Doohan speaks out before the first GP of 2003

Mick Doohan speaks out before the first GP of 2003

With a genuine superstar like Valentino Rossi and an influx of new manufacturers, MotoGP is headed for an exciting and interesting season. The championship won´t be won or lost by whatever happens at Suzuka this Sunday. Consistency over the full season is what counts most at this level. Rossi has to start the year as favourite for a third successive title, barring accidents or injuries. He´s won 22 of the 32 races in the past two years and clearly demonstrated he´s the best guy out there.

Valentino is ready to go racing on a week-by-week basis and that´s how you put championships together. He´s also got a good motorcycle, with the Honda RC211V, and the best team in the business behind him. The switch to four-stroke motorcycles was always going to attract more manufacturer interest, and all the new, extra works bikes mean greater depth in the racing. Finishing in the top 10 is going to be much harder than last year when there was a mixture of four-stroke and two-stroke 500cc machines.

Honda has won eight championships in the past 10 years and will mount a strong campaign. The 2003-spec bike is an evolution of what Honda ran last season. Things like the clutch, which was a bit of a problem, have been improved. Basically everything has been refined. Max Biaggi is back on a Honda this year and I´m sure he´s keen to beat Rossi. So far Biaggi´s results haven´t been as good as Rossi´s in 500s and MotoGP, so it will be interesting to see what happens with this rivalry.

Yamaha haven´t won a championship since ´92 with Wayne Rainey, but they should be the main opposition for the leading Honda riders. It´s hard to predict how Suzuki or Kawasaki will go. Maybe they will be more competitive in race-trim than they´ve been in testing. Time will tell.

Ducati have created a lot of interest. They probably don´t have the resources of some of the Japanese manufacturers, but they know how to put together a winning program, which they´ve shown in the World Superbike Championship and elsewhere. Capirossi will be quick on occasions on the Ducati, as we´ve seen in testing, but Bayliss could be more consistent over the season in terms of race results.

The development of some of the younger riders, such as Suzuki´s John Hopkins, Rossi´s new team-mate Nicky Hayden, and last season´s 250cc world champion Marco Melandri will be interesting. They are all good riders, and MotoGP needs a progression of talent.

Looking at this Sunday´s race it´s difficult to know what will happen, especially when there´s always a chance of wet weather at Suzuka at this time of year. After months of testing and development it will be good to see everyone on the track at the same time in the same conditions because that will give us a better indication of who has the best rider-bike-tyre package.

MotoGP, 2003, SKYY VODKA Grand Prix of Japan

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