Rossi gets first chance to strike for MotoGP title at Grand Prix of Japan

Valentino Rossi gets his first opportunity to clinch the 2005 MotoGP World Championship title in the twelfth round of seventeen at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit this weekend. The Grand Prix of Japan sees Rossi arrive with a 132 - point advantage at the top of the standings and needing just 20 more to become only the third rider in history to win the premier-class crown on five separate occasions. A top two finish will definitely be enough for the 26-year-old although he could retain the status of World Champion with a lower finish depending on the results of the six other riders who still maintain a slim mathematical chance of winning the title.

With six more races remaining for Rossi to collect the points he needs to put the gloss on season of unprecedented success, a more realistic target for Max Biaggi, Marco Melandri, Colin Edwards, Sete Gibernau, Alex Barros and Nicky Hayden over the next eight weekends is the battle for the runner-up spot in the championship. All six riders are separated by just 17 points, with Biaggi having moved to the head of the pack after his battling podium finish in the last round at Brno just over two weeks ago.

Biaggi was the main beneficiary of another bout of bad luck for Gibernau, who looked certain to take second place behind Rossi after contesting the lead with the Italian until the final lap in the Czech Republic. However, a technical problem just two corners from the end denied the Spaniard 20 vital points and he now lies fifth overall. Biaggi's cause has also been aided by the poor recent form of Melandri and Edwards, who have slipped to third and fourth place respectively after both showing glimpses of podium consistency earlier in the season. Melandri has totalled just 19 points over the last four rounds whilst Edwards slumped to eighth and seventh place finishes at the last two races.

Hayden, Edwards and Biaggi will be doubly keen to score points at Motegi after being two of six riders sent tumbling into the gravel in the first corner of last year's race when Loris Capirossi lost control of a dramatic surge from the starting grid on the Ducati. John Hopkins and Kenny Roberts were the other two unfortunate victims on that occasion and both riders have an extra incentive to do well this weekend, with Hopkins celebrating a newly-signed contract with Suzuki and current team-mate Roberts due to start his 100th Grand Prix for the factory. The former World Champion will be looking to relive his glory days at Motegi after celebrating victory in the first two races held there in 1999 and 2000.

Hayden and Barros, the only two riders other than Rossi to have won a race this season, lie sixth and seventh in the championship respectively and they will be aiming to add consistency to their undoubted pace over the final six races. Hayden scored his debut podium at Motegi in 2003 after Makoto Tamada was controversially stripped of third place and the American youngster will be aiming to maintain the form that has seen him second only to Rossi in the points stakes over the past four events. Barros, like Rossi, Biaggi and Roberts, is a former winner at Motegi having famously taken victory in his first appearance aboard the four-stroke Honda RC211V in 2002.

Motegi crowd favourite Tamada maintained an unbeaten record for the V5 machine at Honda's home circuit when he took a stunning first MotoGP victory last season. However, the Japanese rider was then running on Bridgestone tyres and he has produced indifferent form after switching to Michelin this season. Shinya Nakano and Kawasaki, meanwhile, have stuck with the local rubber manufacturer and they will be looking to improve on their best ever result of third place in last year's race, with Nakano even holding out hope of repeating his first Grand Prix win at Motegi back in 1999 in the 250cc class.

Experienced Honda test rider Tohru Ukawa will also be targeting home glory after being called up as a late replacement for Troy Bayliss, who will miss this round after injuring himself in a motocross accident just six days before the race. Whilst Proton Team KR will not be travelling to Japan after their recent split with engine suppliers KTM, their place on the grid will effectively be filled by local independent manufacturers Moriwaki Racing. Former 250cc racer Naoki Matsudo is in line to make his MotoGP debut as a wildcard riding the MD211VF prototype, having gathered four-stroke experience this season competing in the Japanese Superbike Championship. Meanwhile, Blata WCM rider James Ellison faces a late fitness test after injuring his elbow in a crash at the Brno tests two weeks ago.

Current 250cc World Championship leader Dani Pedrosa will also be facing the wildcard challenge this weekend, with his regular rivals for quarter-litre honours joined by the traditional sprinkling of top quality Japanese guest riders, including Honda team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama's brother Shuhei. Yuki Takahashi will also have the task of racing against family this weekend, with younger brother Kouki one of the five local riders looking to make their name in the World Championship's only visit to Japan this season.

A good showing from the wildcards could actually help Pedrosa's cause as he looks to distance himself from his closest pursuers in the championship. Unlike Rossi in the premier-class, Pedrosa's title is far from secure although his 59-point advantage over Casey Stoner represents a healthy cushion with just six rounds remaining. Pedrosa won the 250cc race at Motegi last season from pole position whilst Stoner failed to finish a split 125cc event won easily by Andrea Dovizioso.

This year's 125cc race promises to be a much closer affair, with five riders separated by just 44 points at the top of the championship and six different winners in the series already this year. Swiss youngster Thomas Lüthi leads the way by eight points but the men immediately behind him, Mika Kallio, Gabor Talmacsi, Marco Simoncelli and Mattia Pasini, are among those to have won races this season and all four are still in with a realistic chance of challenging for the title. Five local wildcards will also be taking part in the 125cc event at Motegi although Spanish teenagers Nico Terol and Julián Miralles are both out through injury.


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