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Title-chasing Rossi sets top two target at Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix

Title-chasing Rossi sets top two target at Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix

Title-chasing Rossi sets top two target at Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix

Valentino Rossi can win the MotoGP World Championship for the third successive season in Malaysia this weekend by finishing ahead of his only challenger Sete Gibernau. Victory or second place would also guarantee the crown for the 24 year old former 125cc and 250cc World Champion, who would become only the eighth rider in the history of the sport to win three or more consecutive titles in the premier-class alongside Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey and Mick Doohan.

Rossi has finished outside the top two just twice this season - in the wet race at Assen and then two weeks later at Donington Park, when he was stripped of victory after overtaking under yellow flags. In a Honda dominated race won by Max Biaggi at Motegi last Sunday, Rossi recovered from a mistake midway through the race which saw him concede over eight seconds to the leader before storming back to finish second. It is a foreboding prospect for Gibernau, who has fought bravely for the championship throughout his first season aboard the Honda RC211V. After dicing with the top three in the championship in Japan, MotoGP rookies Nicky Hayden and Makoto Tamada will be eager to do so once more at a track where they both tested in the preseason. Hayden scored his debut podium on Sunday after Tamada was disqualified for riding in an irresponsible manner, but the American will be keen to stand on the rostrum in his own right after proving he is ready to run consistently at the front over the last few races. Tamada, meanwhile, will be doubly determined to avenge the decision which denied him a second consecutive podium in front of his home fans.

Despite struggling to find a good set-up on uncharted territory last weekend, Ducati also arrive at Sepang with a stack of data gathered during the intense tests here during the winter. At a joint session with HRC back in January, Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss gave the first signs of what was to come in a sensational debut MotoGP season for the Italian factory with a string of impressive lap times and the first glimpses of the awesome acceleration and top speed of the Desmosedici.

For Yamaha Marco Melandri had the best result of his debut season at Motegi with a sparkling ride to fifth place after dropping back to nineteenth on the first lap. The Italian, who endured one of the most difficult moments of his 250cc World Championship-winning season when his Aprilia broke down in the early stages of the race last year, will look to carry that form into this weekend, whilst his team-mate Carlos Checa will aim to bounce back from a somewhat less fortunate Grand Prix. The Spaniard was taken out at the first corner by John Hopkins, with along with Bayliss and Colin Edwards also sent into the gravel. Hopkins was handed a fine and was suspended from this race for his actions, although Suzuki will still have two riders on track as Akira Ryo races as a wildcard for the second successive race after finishing in a creditable tenth place at Motegi.

MotoGP, 2003, Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi

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