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MotoGP heads for early carnival at Cinzano Rio Grand Prix

MotoGP heads for early carnival at Cinzano Rio Grand Prix

MotoGP heads for early carnival at Cinzano Rio Grand Prix

The MotoGP World Championship takes a rare summer trip out of Europe this weekend with the Cinzano Rio Grand Prix the seventh round of a thrilling 2004 season. Traditionally held towards the end of the year, the Brazilian race has decided several World Championship titles in recent seasons and is one of the most eagerly anticipated on the calendar.

This weekend it takes on extra significance as Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau continue an intense struggle for the series lead, which sees the two riders level on points but Rossi on top of the standings by virtue of a superior win ratio.

The Italian's latest victory at Assen just three days ago was his fourth of the season and his third in succession, making him the first Yamaha rider to score a hat-trick of consecutive wins since Eddie Lawson in 1986.

With six wins from six starts at Rio in the 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP classes, there is every reason to believe the World Champion, who won the second of his three premier-class titles here in 2002, can extend his run to four – especially considering a relatively strong record for Yamaha at this circuit, with past wins for Luca Cadalora in 1995 and Norick Abe in 1999.

Rossi's form marks a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Japanese factory, who are now leading the constructors' championship, and his confidence appears to be breeding. Factory colleague Marco Melandri finished on the podium at Assen for the second successive Grand Prix, the first time Yamaha have had two riders on the podium at back-to-back races since the start of 2000. Melandri has now scored nine more points in the first six races of this year than he did in the whole of 2003.

Back at Honda, Gibernau seems to have established himself as their greatest chance of retaining the title after opening up a 33-point gap over his nearest factory colleague Max Biaggi. Gibernau is the only rider in any class to have scored podiums at each of the first six rounds and is looking to improve on second place at this race last year.

Alex Barros scored his only podium at his home race in 2000, finishing runner-up to Rossi by less than a second. The Brazilian desperately needs a similar result this weekend after crashing out at Assen with a gear shifter problem to improve on a miserable start to the season, whilst fellow Honda rider Makoto Tamada will also be hopeful of boosting his reputation at a circuit where he scored his first ever MotoGP podium last season.

MotoGP, 2004

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