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MotoGP makes emotional return to Japan for Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix of Motegi

MotoGP makes emotional return to Japan for Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix of Motegi

MotoGP makes emotional return to Japan for Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix of Motegi

The MotoGP World Championship returns to Japan this week for the thirteenth round of an emotive 2003 season. Six months on from Daijiro Kato's tragic death at Suzuka in round one, the revered Japanese idol will be remembered both on and off the track this weekend. On Saturday at 12:30pm, Kato will be honoured as a MotoGP Legend and inducted into the Hall of Fame at a special ceremony to be attended by his relatives, who will be presented with the number 74 plate which became synonymous with the former 250cc World Champion and will now never be used in MotoGP without the express permission of his family. Then, when the red lights go out at 2pm on Sunday, Kato will be venerated by his former rivals in the most fitting way possible, as they once again give their all in the quest to become MotoGP World Champion.

The honour is currently held, of course, by Valentino Rossi, who has exerted his supremacy in the class with some masterful performances in the last three rounds. A hat-trick of consecutive victories at Brno, Estoril and Rio have seen the 24-year-old Italian extend his points advantage over Honda colleague Sete Gibernau to 51, meaning that this weekend represents the first mathematical chance for Rossi to retain the title, should he take victory and the Spaniard fail to score at least two points.

Whilst Rossi will be looking to repeat his victory at Motegi from two years ago, Gibernau aims to improve a dismal record at the circuit, having never finished higher than fifth. However, with his title challenge at breaking point for the first time this season, the incentive couldn't be higher for the 30 year old, who this week extended his contract with Telefonica Movistar and Honda for another two seasons. Whilst Gibernau sets his sights firmly on the series leader, Max Biaggi will be looking to bring second place into focus after a disappointing run of results which have wielded one podium finish from the last four races. The Italian will also be looking to improve a poor record at Motegi, having crashed out in 2001 before retiring with tyre problems last year.

With the emergence of local favourite Makoto Tamada, who scored a sensational first podium at Brazil two weeks ago, and fellow rookie Nicky Hayden at the front of the pack, beating Honda at their home circuit presents an ominous challenge for their factory rivals. On paper, Alex Barros presents the most likely challenger having finished on the podium here for the last two seasons, including victory on his debut ride aboard the Honda RC211V one year ago. However, the Brazilian is still struggling with a shoulder injury and, other than a podium in the wet race at Le Mans in round four, has yet to demonstrate that he can reproduce such form aboard the Yamaha YZR-M1.

Kenny Roberts Jnr is the only other man to have won at Motegi, having taken victories at the first two events held there in 1999 and 2000. The Suzuki rider will be rejoined this weekend by his team-mate John Hopkins, who missed the race in Brazil after a heavy practice fall, and factory test rider Akira Ryo, who rides the GSV-R as a wildcard for the first time this season. The second wildcard spot is taken by Moriwaki Racing, who will enter their ambitious MD211VF machine at the hands of Tamaki Serizawa. It is the second appearance of the season for Serizawa and the Moriwaki, which he rode at Suzuka in April.

MotoGP, 2003

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