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MotoGP heads to Africa for second round

MotoGP heads to Africa for second round

MotoGP heads to Africa for second round

The MotoGP World Championship heads halfway across the world this week as the teams and riders complete a three week procession from Japan to South Africa for the Arnette Africa´s Grand Prix at Welkom. The Phakisa Freeway in the Goldfields area of the Free State hosts a round of the premier motorcycle racing series for the fifth year in succession, with a host of factory teams looking to banish the memories of Honda four-stroke dominance there one year ago, when Tohru Ukawa beat his team-mate Valentino Rossi on the final lap of a thrilling Repsol Honda one-two.

Whilst the championship gets back down to business and the excitement builds ahead of another weekend of spectacular MotoGP action, the tragic death of former 250cc World Champion Daijiro Kato last Sunday continues to weigh heavily on the minds of the travelling paddock and the motorcycle community across the world. Meetings between riders and officials are expected to take place, and tributes will be held for Kato throughout the weekend, whilst the customary pre-event promotional activities held in the build up to the Grand Prix have been cancelled out of respect for the rider and his family.

With team manager Fausto Gresini still completely devastated by Kato´s death and currently in Japan for his funeral, Team Telefonica MoviStar Honda will compete in South Africa with just one rider - Spain's Sete Gibernau. No discussions for the future replacement of Kato have taken place as yet.

The Japanese flag will be flown in MotoGP by Tohru Ukawa (Honda), Nobuatsu Aoki (Proton), Makoto Tamada (Honda), Norick Abe (Yamaha) and Noriyuki Haga (Aprilia). Ukawa will once again be out to stop Rossi after taking a disappointing last place at his home Grand Prix in round one, whilst few riders will be more determined to put up a challenge than the Japanese rider´s new team-mate Max Biaggi. The Italian finished second to his great rival Rossi at Suzuka, and will be looking to go one better in the country he scored his first ever Grand Prix victory, in the 250cc race at the Kyalami circuit in 1992, and at the circuit where he clinched 500cc victory in 1999.

The Ducati team of Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss, who stormed to sensational third and fifth place finishes in Japan, will once again be fighting against the odds at this tight and bumpy circuit which they have yet to complete a lap on aboard the impressive Desmosedici. However, Capirossi is used to the pressure and the Italian has finished on the podium on his last three visits here, including a stirring ride to third place last season on the two-stroke Honda. For Bayliss it will be a first trip to Welkom, one of thirteen circuits on the MotoGP calendar that the former World Superbike Champion has yet to visit.

With the notoriously bumpy and slippery circuit and extremely high altitude making life difficult for set-up, it promises to be a tricky weekend not only for Ducati, but also for Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Aprilia and WCM, who all bring either vastly modified or completely new prototypes compared to their models from last season. However, one team who could find themselves at an unusual advantage will be Proton Team KR, who again roll out their lightweight three-cylinder two-stroke after experiencing further delays with their V5 four-stroke. Despite a 13 km/h disadvantage down the straight, the only remaining two-strokes on the MotoGP grid could hold the key through the fourteen tight and technical corners.

For Yamaha Alex Barros will race after three weeks of intensive physiotherapy on a small fracture, bruising and stretched cruciate ligaments in his knee, sustained in the warm-up session ahead of the Suzuka race. Meanwhile, factory colleague Marco Melandri, who broke his leg during the first practice session for the same race, will have to wait until the third round at Jerez at the earliest to make his MotoGP debut and is replaced this weekend by Yamaha veteran Norick Abe.

MotoGP, 2003, Arnette Africa's Grand Prix

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