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Paddock unpacks for the penultimate race of the year

Paddock unpacks for the penultimate race of the year

Paddock unpacks for the penultimate race of the year

The MotoGP World Championship today unpacked and re-assembled for the penultimate time this year at Phillip Island amidst continued speculation over how it will look next season. World Champion Valentino Rossi has still to make his mind up over a new contract offer from Honda, with whom he won the title for the third consecutive season last weekend in Malaysia, leaving a potential merry-go-round of teams and riders on hold. However, Rossi said today that he would not rush his decision and revealed that his options were still open.

"I don't understand why the other riders are waiting for me – maybe they want my bike!" joked Rossi this afternoon. "I am sorry for them but really it is not my problem. It is a complicated situation and would take three hours to explain, but the hold-up is not about money, it is about other contract matters. I don't think it will be resolved this weekend." Asked whether a proposed switch to Ducati was still on the cards, Rossi added: "Maybe it's possible."

Turning his attention to the weekend's racing, Rossi continued: "This is a fabulous circuit, different to the others because it is so up and down. It has long and incredibly fast corners, especially the first and last turns. I remember testing the V5 here for the first time – going down the hill at the end of the straight my feet came off the footpegs and I was almost flying! We have had some great races here in the past so hopefully the weather will stay nice and we can have another great show on Sunday."

Whilst the weather on the island has been typically mixed so far this week, the majority of the riders have nevertheless enjoyed a brief respite in the demanding final run of races to take in the sights of one of the most geographically diverse and culturally affluent countries in the world. Rossi himself only arrived this afternoon after spending two days exploring Sydney, whilst for others a range of extra-curricular activities including surfing, fishing, scuba-diving and - curiously for Carlos Checa - sheep-shearing topped the agenda.

Suzuki rider John Hopkins returned from a week of jet-skiing at his good friend Garry McCoy's house in Brisbane to make his comeback from a one-race suspension at Sepang last week. The American rider was sanctioned for a first-corner incident at Motegi the previous week, when he crashed into Carlos Checa and Troy Bayliss, and today declared his intent to make up for lost time. "This weekend I'm going out there to give it everything I can," said Hopkins. "I like the track and we tested here at the beginning of the season. I'll go for it, and see what I can do. I'm not going round with my tail between my legs, that's for sure."

Troy Bayliss warmed up for his home race by forming part of a major Ducati Parade in Melbourne on Tuesday. The Australian and his team-mate Loris Capirossi were joined by around 100 fellow ‘Ducatisti', who roared through the streets of the Victoria state capital to the delight of a captivated audience, which included the city's Mayor, John So. "I always say that I would treat this race like any other, but now I am here I have to admit it is pretty special," said Bayliss, who won both WSB races at this circuit last year. "I have a good record here and the Desmosedici went well during winter tests so I am quite optimistic, but we will have to see how we fare when the action really starts tomorrow."

MotoGP, 2003, SKYY VODKA Australian Grand Prix

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