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Melandri returns to scene of 2002 triumph

Melandri returns to scene of 2002 triumph

Melandri returns to scene of 2002 triumph

Twelve months ago Marco Melandri was probably a great deal more nervous than he is this week.

Once again the Aussie GP at Philip Island was towards the end of the World Championship calendar and the Italian was within touching distance of the 250cc title. After a close race with Fonsi Nieto, Melandri became the youngest ever quarter-litre World Champ, 176 days more youthful than his friend Valentino Rossi, and the success paved the way to his signature with Yamaha and his MotoGP debut this season, which has been a flurry of injury, bad luck, education, development work and flashes of blistering speed. A perfect example of the latter is the charge he instigated in Motegi which saw him recover from an early race spot of 19th to cross the finish line in an impressive 5th. A case for the negative side can be seen the following weekend and several days ago when he had set-up problems with the Fortuna Yamaha and could not break into the top ten at Sepang.

Nevertheless, Philip Island is a venue where Melandri has already proved his speed and determination to withstand pressure. He has also scored wins in two classes counting his 125cc success in 1999 alongside the 250cc celebration from 2002.< p> Currently holding 14th in the standings (having missed the first two races with a broken leg) the 21 year old will be keen to complete the last two GPs of the calendar and embark on a well-deserved break to take stock of his maiden MotoGP campaign, where his highest result other than Motegi has been a 7th at Estoril. The ultra-fast prospect of Philip Island awaits him first.

"I won the 250cc title in Phillip Island last year so it's a very special race for me," he reflected. "But even before that it was one of my favourite circuits. It's very beautiful to be so close to the ocean and riding there makes me feel relaxed. It's one of the faster tracks, with very high corner speed and sometimes very strong winds."

"I think it will be quite a difficult circuit with the four-stroke bike. We didn't test there in the winter but I don't think it would have made a huge difference if we had. For example, when we tested before the Czech GP at the Brno circuit mid-season, I had a really good test but then a really difficult race. I don't know what changed but I just didn't feel as comfortable. That's the nature of the challenge this year for me, so I'm not worried that I haven't tested the four-stroke at Phillip Island before now. I can't tell what will happen, but I will certainly be working as hard as I can with my team, as usual!"

MotoGP, 2003, Marco Melandri

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