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MotoGP heads east for the Camel Grand Prix of Japan

MotoGP heads east for the Camel Grand Prix of Japan

MotoGP heads east for the Camel Grand Prix of Japan

The MotoGP World Championship heads into its crucial final stage this weekend with the first of four ‘flyaway' races in five weeks, the Camel Grand Prix of Japan at Motegi.

The elite of motorcycle racing and their prototype machines will head from Japan to Qatar, Malaysia and Australia before returning to European shores at the end of October for the sixteenth and final round of the season at Valencia. It is a decisive spell for the fate of the title, which currently looks destined to remain in the hands of its current proprietor, Valentino Rossi.

Rossi's sixth victory of the season at the last round in Portugal swings his winning record to over 50% from the first eleven races, a ratio which shows no sign of relenting as the Yamaha factory make their final push for a title they haven't won since 1992.

During a day of tests at the Estoril circuit after the race, Rossi reported positive results from a new exhaust system imported from Japan, a weapon they look certain to use this weekend as they battle for superiority at the home of their great rivals Honda.

Honda also provided their main title hope, Sete Gibernau, with a new exhaust system recently but the Spaniard chose not to use it, preferring to approach the crucial final few races of the season on a machine he has already taken three victories with this season. Having also stayed on for tests at Estoril, Gibernau heads to Japan on the back of key set-up improvements to his Honda RC211V as he looks to cut back a 29-point gap to Rossi at the top of the standings.

The main rivals to Gibernau's chances this weekend, however, could come from his own factory colleagues. Makoto Tamada and Alex Barros both took potential points from Gibernau in Portugal, relegating him to fourth place as they took the final two podium positions behind Rossi, and both have strong records at this circuit.

Tamada was disqualified from last year's race and was denied what would have been his second podium after clashing with Gibernau in third place, whilst Barros took victory on his first ever ride aboard the RC211V at this track in 2002.

Tamada, in particular, will be looking to avenge last year's decision and arrives at his home Grand Prix on the back of a great run of form. Since his win at Rio in round seven, Tamada has been second only to Rossi in terms of points scored and will look to consolidate his growing reputation with a second victory of the season in front of a passionate local crowd.

Fellow Honda rider Nicky Hayden, who was handed his first ever podium thanks to Tamada's disqualification last year, is back after missing the action in Portugal with a broken collarbone, whilst Shane Byrne has also confirmed he will return to the Aprilia fold after recovering from a broken wrist sustained in a practice crash at Brno four weeks ago.

There is no such good news for Proton Team KR, however, with Kurtis Roberts expected to miss the next two races after undergoing an operation on his own broken wrist.

Meanwhile, Tohru Ukawa will return to MotoGP action for the first time since the end of the 2003 season, riding an updated version of the RC211V as a wildcard entry for Honda. Ukawa will be joined on track by former 250cc World Champion Olivier Jacque, who also departed the MotoGP scene at the end of last season, riding the Moriwaki.

Max Biaggi's aspirations of winning the title virtually ended when he crashed out on the first lap at Portugal. However, the Italian escaped uninjured and is scheduled to make a record 180th consecutive Grand Prix start at Motegi, where he went from pole to victory one year ago.

Biaggi's compatriot Marco Melandri also makes a milestone appearance this weekend, clocking up 100 Grand Prix starts since his debut in 1997. The Yamaha rider recorded his best MotoGP finish of last season at Motegi, charging from nineteenth on the first lap to fifth by the end of the race.


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