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MotoGP moves south for the SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix

MotoGP moves south for the SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix

MotoGP moves south for the SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix

After two consecutive race weekends in Asia, the MotoGP World Championship returns to the southern hemisphere this week for the SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix.

With Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa crowned as MotoGP and 125cc World Champions in Malaysia last weekend, the third crown in the series could be claimed at Phillip Island this Sunday, with Manuel Poggiali leading the 250cc World Championship by 25 points from both Toni Elias and Roberto Rolfo. Poggiali needs to stretch his advantage by just one further point to have the title wrapped up by the final round in Valencia, although he faces a man in form in the shape of Elias, who has set pole position at the last four races, taking victory in three.

For Rossi the pressure is relatively off, having won his third straight title with two races to spare. However, there is still plenty for the Italian to race for in as he aims to equal the record number of consecutive podium finishes set by the legendary Giacomo Agostini with 22 in the 1960s and move ahead of Eddie Lawson in the list of all time victories. Having moved level with Lawson with his 31st triumph at Sepang last Sunday, only Agostini, Mike Hailwood and Mick Doohan now have more wins than the 24 year old in the premier-class.

The fight for second place in the championship is still on but seems to be firmly in the grasp of Sete Gibernau, who is on course for the highest points total for any runner-up in the history of the premier-class. The Spaniard currently has 244 points, 29 more than third-placed Max Biaggi, and needs just two more to improve on compatriot Alex Criville's record of 245, finishing second to Mick Doohan in 1996. Meanwhile, Biaggi is out to reach his own personal milestone of 100 premier-class podiums, having picked up number 98 at Sepang when he finished third behind Gibernau.

One way or another the top three positions in the championship are decided, but there is still plenty of pride at stake through the rest of the field and there will be a whole host of rivals out to dent Rossi's honour at a spectacular circuit which has hosted some of the closest races in Grand Prix history. Australian Troy Bayliss returns home after an increasingly difficult debut year in the MotoGP class and the gritty 34 year old will be doubly determined to re-ignite his season in front of the passionate local support. After scoring podiums at Jerez, Brno and Sachsenring, Bayliss has lost touch with the front group in recent weeks and will be looking to build on an excellent record here in the World Superbike series, where he won both races here last season, and a successful series of tests with the Ducati Desmosedici last winter.

Whilst Bayliss was the revelation of the first half of the season, the rookie to hit the headlines in the second half has been Nicky Hayden, who has only been outscored by Rossi, Gibernau and Biaggi over the last six races. The 22 year old American arrived in Australia amongst the steady stream of MotoGP riders, teams and officials making their way south from Asia early this morning and he quickly took the opportunity to see some of the sights before focussing on the weekend's racing.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2003, SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix

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