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Paddock re-assembles for second ‘flyaway'

Paddock re-assembles for second ‘flyaway'

Paddock re-assembles for second ‘flyaway'

After the first of four long-haul races in Brazil two weeks ago, the portable MotoGP paddock unpacked and re-assembled on the other side of the globe today in readiness for this weekend's Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix of Motegi. Qualifying for the thirteenth round of the season gets underway at the Japanese circuit tomorrow, with the first batch of crucial championship points at stake in three consecutive race weekends. With successive trips to Malaysia and Australia still to come before the final round at Valencia in Spain, there was a business-like ambience to the paddock this afternoon as the teams and riders focussed their attentions not only on an intensive period of racing, but also on negotiations for next season.

With many of the doors to the temporary cabins which serve as offices, changing rooms and private sanctuaries to the teams outside Europe shut tight, series leader Valentino Rossi could be found in the Clinica Mobile, where he was being treated for a stomach upset. The Italian's main World Championship rival Sete Gibernau, himself suffering from flu symptoms, joked that Rossi was not sick at all but was instead finalising his much publicised new contract with Honda.

"Hopefully Valentino can sort something out soon, because really my plans and those of the other riders depend on what he decides," said the Spaniard, who earlier this week announced a new deal with his main sponsors. "I have signed a two-year contract with Telefonica Movistar, and now I need to know what the situation with Honda is. Hopefully we will hear something this weekend."

This race presents an ideal chance for Gibernau to confirm his worth to the Japanese factory, as he looks to continue an inspired title challenge which sees him trail Rossi by 51 points with four races to go. Yesterday he joined team manager Fausto Gresini and his mechanics on a visit to the resting place of their late companion Daijiro Kato in Tokyo. Kato's wife and family showed them how to honour the much-lamented former 250cc World Champion with traditional Japanese practices.

Despite the painful absence of Kato this weekend, the Japanese public have been promised a challenge for victory by the emerging talent of his former Honda colleague Makoto Tamada, who took his first MotoGP podium at Rio two weeks ago. "I have shown in the last race that I can be competitive and so have my Bridegstone tyres," declared Tamada today. "If everything comes together this weekend I think I can win the race. I will certainly try my best to do so."

125cc World Championship leader Dani Pedrosa, who would set up a first definitive shot at title in the next round at Sepang should he repeat his victory from one year ago here this weekend, took the opportunity to escape the intensity of the paddock as he joined a group of other riders including MotoGP star Max Biaggi and 250cc frontrunners Randy De Puniet and Sebastian Porto on a visit to the Fan Fun Lab, one of the many interesting facilities at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit. The group took a guided tour of the hi-tech museum, and were introduced to Honda's famous humanoid robot ASIMO.

MotoGP, 2003

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