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Extra spice to Italian special

Extra spice to Italian special

Extra spice to Italian special

In recent years the Gran Premio Cinzano d´Italia has developed into one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the MotoGP World Championship calendar. The Mugello circuit has become a spiritual battleground for feuding home riders Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi and their armies of rival fans, but loyalties will be pushed to the limit this weekend with the emergence of two new national heroes. The ever-popular Loris Capirossi, who won here in 2000, now has the weight of Ducati and their legion of passionate support behind him, whilst 250cc World Champion Marco Melandri announced his arrival on the MotoGP scene at Le Mans as he roared to the front row in qualifying and played a starring role in the early exchanges of the race riding the Yamaha M1.

The undulating hills and sweeping esses of the Tuscan track provide some of the most demanding yet entertaining challenges in the world for the teams and riders, whilst their latest generation four-stroke prototypes should break the 330 km/h barrier down the longest straight on the MotoGP calendar. It is familiar territory for series leader Rossi, who boasts the unique honour of having won 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP races here. The 24 year old also holds a psychological advantage as the only man to have won at this track aboard his current machine, the Honda RC211V, whilst Yamaha rider Carlos Checa is the only other man to have race experience there on his current steed.

However, M1 new boys Melandri, Alex Barros, Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano all took part in a two day session here alongside Checa after the third round of the season at Jerez, whilst former WSB stars Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards also clocked up hundreds of laps at Mugello with Ducati and Aprilia respectively in preparation for their debut MotoGP season.

Although he rides for an Italian team, one man looking to upset the partisan home crowd will be Sete Gibernau, winner in France two weeks ago. The Spaniard, now piloting a full factory Honda under the guidance of Fausto Gresini, has taken two wins from the first four races - the same as Rossi - but trails the World Champion by 27 points in the rider standings. Gibernau currently lies third, four points behind second-placed Biaggi.

Whilst development work continues for Suzuki with their radical 2003 version GSV-R and for Kawasaki, who have drafted in test rider Alex Hofmann for another wildcard appearance aboard the ZX-RR, Proton Team KR have promised to race their brand new four-stroke which made a roaring debut at Le Mans. Both Jeremy McWilliams and Nobuatsu Aoki were impressed with the V5 in qualifying despite opting to race the two-stroke one final time, but the team have confirmed they will take three units of the new machine to Italy, where it will make its debut race appearance.

MotoGP, 2003, Gran Premio Cinzano d'Italia

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