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Final touches at Suzuka on eve of season curtain-raiser

Final touches at Suzuka on eve of season curtain-raiser

Final touches at Suzuka on eve of season curtain-raiser

The finishing touches to meticulous preparations for the SKYY Vodka Grand Prix of Japan were being completed today as the MotoGP teams and riders assembled at Suzuka amidst an air of optimism and expectancy. On the eve of the eagerly anticipated curtain-raiser to the groundbreaking 2003 season, a total of 94 riders and 139 machines, including wildcards, passed through stringent examination procedures as race officials made their own last minute checks to ensure all entries were within regulations.

There was a friendly and social atmosphere as the riders wandered freely around a paddock refreshed by the arrival of the top three riders from the World Superbike series, Colin Edwards, Troy Bayliss and Nori Haga, and leading Italian manufacturers Ducati. Tomorrow on-track acquaintances are sure to be renewed somewhat less amicably, as the battle for the most coveted prize in motorcycle racing gets underway. No fewer than ten current and former World Champions will take to the redesigned Japanese track, which features a new penultimate corner and chicane layout. It is a challenge reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi is relishing.

`Every season is difficult, but maybe this season more so because there are so many World Champions on the grid and everybody is on a factory four-stroke´, smiled a typically relaxed Rossi. `For example, last weekend we had a very good test, I got a good feeling with the bike and set a fast lap time, but at the end of the session there were ten riders within one second. I think it should be great fun for all of us´.

The circuit medical centre was also a hive of activity, with several riders still nursing bumps and bruises from an intense winter testing period. Tohru Ukawa was the main patient after cracking his left knee bone in the IRTA test here at the weekend, but the home favourite, a previous three-time winner of the famous Suzuka 8 hour endurance race, rates himself as 99% fit and he will definitely ride in the first qualifying practice on Friday. From the 250 class returning Australian Anthony West also checked in to monitor three cracked vertebrae in his lower back, although he was also passed fit.

MotoGP, 2003, SKYY VODKA Grand Prix of Japan

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