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Stoner picks his title rivals

Stoner picks his title rivals

Stoner picks his title rivals

Casey Stoner starts the 2004 125cc World Championship as one of the favourites for major honours after signing for the factory KTM team on the back of his race winning performance in the final round of 2003 at Valencia. Now in his third full season of Grand Prix racing, the Australian teenager recognises that he must come of age in 2004 and says that there is no better place to start than at the first race of the season in Welkom.

"I like this circuit a lot – it doesn't suit some riders because it is bumpy and can be dusty but that's not a problem for me. Also the landscape and weather is very much like Australia so I feel at home and I feel comfortable. Last year we had a few problems – we had a crack in the chassis that we didn't discover until after the race - but the year before that I went quite well and I just have to hope things go my way.

"I finished 2003 with a win and I'd love to start 2004 in the same way. My objective for the season has to be to win the title, but it's going to be a long hard season and I know it won't be a case of 16 wins from 16 races because the category is so tough. But I am confident I can get my fair share of wins and be up there at the end of the season."

With no fewer than ten Grand Prix winners in the class the 125 title chase promises to be one of the most open yet, but Stoner believes it will be disputed by just a handful of riders.

"Going on his form from last year I think Hector Barbera will be strong. Roberto Locatelli looks back to his best, Andrea Dovizioso is also quick… maybe Steve Jenkner too but he seems to struggle to be consistent throughout the season. Basically I reckon a group of about four or five guys could win it and I hope I am one of them.

"I'm feeling pretty confident – the preseason tests had been a bit of a struggle but things came together at the last test. The weather wasn't great and I had a small crash but the main thing was that we got working in the right direction and know what we have to do to improve. The reliability of the bike is really good and we're definitely ready to go racing".

125cc, 2004, BETANDWIN.COM AFRICA'S GRAND PRIX, Casey Stoner

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