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Rossi returns 'home' with slender lead

Rossi returns 'home' with slender lead

Rossi returns 'home' with slender lead

Valentino Rossi arrives in his hometown of London for a traditional date with his army of British fans in Leicester Square on Wednesday as leader of the MotoGP World Championship, but only just.

Max Biaggi's victory at the Sachsenring circuit in Germany on Sunday has brought him to within just one point of the reigning World Champion ahead of the Cinzano British Grand Prix at Donington Park, the ninth round of a refreshingly unpredictable season which has already seen four different winners.

Following on from victories for Rossi, Sete Gibernau and Makoto Tamada, Biaggi's win in Germany was the thirteenth of his career, equalling Randy Mamola as the most successful rider never to have won the premier-class title.

This weekend Biaggi has the chance to strengthen his bid to leave that particular record exclusively to Mamola by clinching the series lead at a circuit where he celebrated a controversial victory one year ago, when he was awarded maximum points after Rossi was penalised for overtaking under a yellow flag.

With seven wins, including two this year, and the highest points record for a runner-up already on his curriculum vitae after last season, Sete Gibernau has perhaps even more reason than Biaggi to head into the summer break on a victorious note.

The Spanish rider crashed out of his second race in succession in Germany and lost provisional second place in the championship to the Italian, conceding thirteen points to Rossi at the top of the standings. Gibernau has never won at Donington and scored his first ever podium here last year, when he finished second.

Alex Barros' chances of realising his World Championship dream this year remain slim but the Brazilian showed signs of a return to form at Sachsenring, clinching a second place finish which took him above Giacomo Agostini to the top of the list of riders with most point scoring finishes in history.

Barros lies fourth in the championship, 47 points behind Gibernau, but particularly after recent events and with seven races still remaining, the Brazilian veteran knows anything can happen before the end of the season.

Like their Yamaha colleague, both Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri have residences in England and will be looking to use their local knowledge to recover from a disappointing weekend in Germany. Whilst Checa crashed out of third place and dropped to seventh in the championship behind improving Honda rider Nicky Hayden, Melandri suffered a spectacular crash which also brought down his team-mate Norick Abe. It was at Donington last year when Melandri first showed real signs of his MotoGP potential, running at the front of the pack before crashing, and will be looking for further consolidation on Sunday after scoring two podium finishes already this season.

Elsewhere there are home races for several teams including Suzuki, who enjoyed top ten finishes for both Kenny Roberts and John Hopkins at Sachsenring, Proton Team KR and WCM, who made the shock announcement on Monday that they will be teaming up with Czech mini-bike manufacturer Blata to produce a V6 prototype to run in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship.

Whilst the WCM team look to the future, current World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson has fond memories of their past, having scored his best ever Grand Prix result with them at Donington Park on a Roc-Yamaha back in 1995. Hodgson, who is one of four home riders alongside Jeremy McWilliams, Shane Byrne and Chris Burns, also won two WSB races at this circuit, including his very first win as a wildcard in 2000.

Hodgson has yet to establish himself at the top of the MotoGP World Championship but he is no doubt going to be one of the most sought after signatures by autograph hunters at the traditional Day of Champions on Thursday. The paddock will open its gates to punters on the day, with a variety of activities, autograph sessions and auctions arranged to raise money for the MotoGP charity Riders for Health.

MotoGP, 2004, CINZANO BRITISH GRAND PRIX, Valentino Rossi

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