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MotoGP waves goodbye to Europe at Grande Premio Marlboro de Portugal

MotoGP waves goodbye to Europe at Grande Premio Marlboro de Portugal

MotoGP waves goodbye to Europe at Grande Premio Marlboro de Portugal

The MotoGP World Championship heads to the western edge of Europe this weekend for the last of nine rounds on the continent before a five week jaunt across Asia, the Middle East and Australia which will bring the 2004 season to a rising crescendo ahead of a mouth-watering final race at Valencia.

The Grande Premio Marlboro de Portugal marks the eleventh of sixteen rounds and provides Sete Gibernau with another chance to close the gap on series leader Valentino Rossi in front of a partisan crowd.

Thousands of Spanish fans traditionally flood over the border to the Estoril circuit on the outskirts of Lisbon and have more reason than ever to swap their sofa for a grandstand seat at the Estoril circuit this weekend as Gibernau looks to repeat victory over Rossi in the last round in the Czech Republic.

Rossi's lead currently stands at 17 points over the Spaniard, with a maximum of 150 still up for grabs, and both riders will be looking to make the most of improvements made to their machinery in two days of tests which followed the Grand Prix at Brno last week.

Rossi's Yamaha team worked intensively on improvements to the engine of his M1, which was also fitted with a new fairing exclusively for the test. Meanwhile, Gibernau was able to experiment with the new exhaust system brought to Brno by Honda, which he declined to use in the race after adverse weather conditions had limited dry set-up time during practice.

Any improvements to the bikes will be tested to the limit at Estoril, a circuit notoriously critical of engine and chassis set-up, where some of the fastest and slowest corners on the MotoGP calendar intensify the need for a good overall compromise.

Yamaha and Honda were not the only factories making progress at Brno, with their rivals Ducati, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Proton, WCM and Moriwaki all staying on for extra tests as the need to close down the gap to the lead riders becomes ever more apparent.

Gibernau, Rossi and Max Biaggi consolidated their top three positions in the championship by filling the podium in the Czech Republic for the seventh time since four-stroke motorcycles were introduced to the series at the start of the 2002 season and at least one of the three has been on the podium at each of the 42 races since then, including a total of 37 victories.

One man unlikely to be challenging the lead trio for his debut win this weekend is Honda rider Nicky Hayden, who faces a late fitness check after breaking his collarbone in a training accident in Italy on Saturday. Meanwhile, Shane Byrne has definitely been ruled by his Aprilia team as he continues his recovery from a dislocated wrist. Byrne is aiming for a return to action in the next round at Motegi.


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