The MotoGP World Championship makes a historic first visit to Shanghai this weekend for the inaugural Taobao.com Grand Prix of China. The Shanghai International Circuit, situated outside China's prosperous metropolitan port city, plays host to the event as the world's premier motorcycles and riders bring their spectacular showcase to an estimated population of over 1.3 billion people.
The Chinese public have been given their first taste of MotoGP action during the opening two rounds of the 2005 season, which have been screened on Shanghai TV and Dragon TV. Valentino Rossi and Alex Barros took victories at Jerez and Estoril respectively, with the Italian now leading the Championship by seven points from the Brazilian.
For Rossi the unprecedented event represents a completely fresh challenge and an opportunity to consolidate a dominant start to his title defence. Meanwhile, Barros has the opportunity to establish himself as the World Champion's main challenger ahead of the likes of fellow Honda riders Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi, who have both enjoyed indifferent starts to their campaigns.
Whilst Gibernau finished second to Yamaha's Rossi in the opening round at Jerez before crashing out of the lead at Estoril, Biaggi progressed from seventh place to third respectively and will look to remain on an upward trend as he makes his 200th Grand Prix start this Sunday. It will also be a milestone race for Shinya Nakano, who will be making his 100th appearance.
Nakano will be joined in the Kawasaki garage this weekend by his former team-mate Olivier Jacque, who clinched the 250cc title ahead of the Japanese rider in a thrilling climax to the 2000 season. Jacque has been called up to replace injured rider Alex Hofmann for the next two rounds after the German broke his wrist in a freak crash prior to the Estoril race.
Also missing from the usual entry list this weekend is British rider Shane Byrne, who will instead head for Jerez as Team KR and KTM perform tests on a new engine after running out of parts to take to China. Meanwhile, Japanese rider Makoto Tamada faces a late fitness test after also injuring his wrist in Portugal.
The unique characteristics of the racetrack and its impressive architecture are set to make Shanghai International Circuit a highlight of the MotoGP season. Vast grandstands overlook equally impressive pits and a paddock complex adjacent to the high-speed 5,451km circuit, which includes two very fast straights and a series of tight corners.
Like Valentino Rossi in the premier-class, 250cc World Champion Daniel Pedrosa heads to China on top of the standings after taking one victory from the opening two rounds. However, the influx of talent to have stepped up to the quarter-litre class from the 125cc series this season is already starting to show, with a thrilling second round in Portugal providing the closest top five finish in the class for almost three seasons.
Whilst Pedrosa could only manage fourth on that occasion, Casey Stoner clinched his maiden victory in the class ahead of Andrea Dovizioso, the reigning 125cc World Champion, who now lies second in the overall standings just five points adrift of Pedrosa. Randy De Puniet, who completed the podium in Portugal, is set for his 100th start since making his Grand Prix debut in 1998.
Mika Kallio leads the 125cc World Championship for the first time in his career after taking his first victory in Estoril to add to second place in the opening round at Jerez. Kallio's historic victory was the first by any Finnish rider in the 125cc class and his country's first Grand Prix success since Pentti Korhonen won the 350cc race in Yugoslavia in 1975.
There is a slight change to the Sunday race timetable this weekend, with the action starting with the 125cc race at 12:00h local time (UTC +8) followed by the 250cc class at 13:15h and MotoGP at 15:00h.
Source: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS