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Sep 18, 2002

Honda Previews MotoGP At Rio

From a press release issued by Honda:<BR><BR>UKAWA HOLDS KEY TO ROSSI'S RIO TITLE BID<BR><BR>Honda hero Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) heads to South America this week ready to secure his fourth World Championship in just seven years. The remarkable 23-year-old has dominated this year's first-ever MotoGP series, winning nine of the first 11 races, and carries an 89-point advantage into Saturday's Rio Grand Prix. If he wins the race, with sole title rival Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) fourth or lower, Rossi will be crowned World Champion.<BR><BR>The Rio omens are good for Rossi. The Italian has been victorious on his last four visits to Jacarepagua, in fact he's only once failed to win at the circuit, during his debut 125 GP campaign way back in 1996. He won the '97 Rio 125 GP on his way to that year's 125 World Championship, he won the '99 250 GP to clinch that year's 250 crown, he scored his first dry-track 500 success at Rio the following year and last November he won the season-ending Rio 500 GP, having already wrapped up to the last-ever 500 title. So he obviously gets on well with the bumpy and slippery track.<BR><BR>"For sure it would be good to win the title in Rio because it's a great place to party!" smiles Rossi, who enjoyed a riotous title-winning celebration at a Rio yacht club after his 250 victory three years ago. "But the only important thing is to win the title, 'when' doesn't matter. I think we can have a good weekend because we sorted a few problems at Estoril two weeks back. Since Brno we'd been having some braking trouble, it was difficult to get the bike stopped but that's fixed now, so I'm enjoying riding the bike again."<BR><BR>Rossi's overall Honda record is phenomenal. Since joining the marque at the start of the 2000 500 season, he has won 22 premier-class GPs from 43 starts. But winning again on Saturday may not be enough to hand him the title with the Pacific, Malaysian, Australian and Valencia GPs still to go. Team-mate Ukawa is also pretty handy at Jacarepagua, situated close to the South Atlantic coastline 20km outside the city of Rio de Janeiro, and if the Japanese finishes in the top three, Rossi will have to wait a few weeks longer for his coronation. Ukawa took pole position for last year's Rio 500 GP, when, like Rossi, he was riding a Honda NSR500, though he crashed out of the race. And he's finished on the Rio 250 GP podium on three occasions, in 1999 and 2000, when he finished second, and in 1997, when he was third. Also, Ukawa is on fine form at the moment, finishing third at the last three GPs, despite suffering the effects of two big accidents.<BR><BR>"I want to continue the good podium run I'm having at the moment," says Ukawa who is most concerned with defending second overall from Max Biaggi (Yamaha), who is just 12 points further back. "My third place at Estoril increased the gap between me and Biaggi and I need to keep it that way for the rest of the season. I like the Rio track, I've had three 250 podiums there and last year I scored my first-ever 500 pole at the circuit. This year I must make sure I don't crash again, I can't afford to lose the points."<BR><BR>If Rossi's focus is aimed at securing the MotoGP title, Brazilian Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) is concerned only with winning his home GP for the first time. Barros has been contesting World Championship events in Brazil since 1988, scoring his first home-country points the following year when he finished tenth in the Brazilian 250 GP, then held at Goiania. In '92 he took eighth in the Brazilian 500 GP at Interlagos. And two years ago he came within 0.970 seconds of winning his home GP when he chased Rossi over the line at Jacarepagua. But the 32-year old from Sao Paulo knows that he will have a difficult job trying to stay with Rossi's RCV V5 four-stroke.<BR><BR>"It will be another difficult race for us, because Rio is a fast track," says the top two-stroke MotoGP rider who hopes to have his first race on an RCV at the Pacific GP on October 6. "The four-strokes are much faster than the 500s in a straight line, there's no way we can even hold their slipstream, so they'll have a big advantage down the main straight. I think we can be faster through the curves, I know I'm really quick through the final section of the circuit, and I know I'm very strong on the brakes, which is useful at the end of the big straight. But it's a case of weighing up the time we gain and the time we lose, and overall the four-strokes will be faster. The only time we really have an advantage is on Friday, when the four-strokes are starting from zero on set-up, because this is their first time at the track."<BR><BR>Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) aims to get back on track at Rio after recording a no-score at the Portuguese GP two weeks ago. Racing an RCV V5 for only the second time, after he'd finished a brilliant second in his Brno debut, Kato slid out of the rain-lashed GP. "I want it to be dry for Rio!" smiles the reigning 250 World Champion who won last year's damp Rio 250 GP. "Estoril was difficult for me because I've had so little time on the bike, it was wet for much of the second day of practice and then it rained heavily for the race. If the conditions are better at Rio I believe I can fight up front, just like I did at Brno. Rio is never an easy track because it's slippery even when it's dry, especially if the weather is hot. Riding the RCV there will be very interesting!"<BR><BR>Barros' team-mate Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) also tumbled at Estoril and he too hopes to be back in the points at Rio. "But I think we will have trouble staying with the four-strokes," says Capirossi, who has only once finished on the podium in Brazil, when he took third place in the 1999 Rio 250 GP. "Maybe the weather may intervene like last year, because the confusion could help us close the gap on the four-strokes."<BR><BR>Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) expects a challenging weekend at a track that has never been kind to him. The Japanese finished outside the top ten in his two previous premier-class outings at Rio, in 1999 and 2000, and never did better than second in his various 250 rides at the track. "Much will depend on the conditions, sometimes Rio is very slippery, other times it's just a little bit slippery," he says. "This will be my first time there with a V4 500 and we'll need all the set-up time we can get, so I hope the track isn't too dirty when we start practice on Thursday, and I hope it stays dry."<BR><BR>Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) had been hoping for his best result of the year in the rain at Estoril but he was sidelined by a quickshifter problem after running third in the early stages. "That's sometimes how things turn out you're all set for your best result, then something tiny goes wrong," says the Dutchman. "Rio will be interesting for us because it's got a strange surface, but Bridgestone have been making some good strides forward, and I'm sure they'll have something good for the conditions."<BR><BR>In the 250s, Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) plans to put the memory of a miserable Portuguese GP well and truly behind him. The Italian was given a stop-and-go penalty for allegedly jumping the start, but came back superbly to finish fourth, just 23 seconds down on winner Fonsi Nieto (Aprilia). Without the controversial penalty, he would surely have won the race. "I was robbed, there's no way I jumped the start," says Rolfo. "For Rio I want to get the best-possible result to erase that memory. I need maximum points, though it's going to be tough for me to catch Nieto in second overall."<BR><BR>Rolfo's team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) had a great race in Portugal, taking sixth place in his comeback ride following surgery to correct 'arm pump' problems. "The surgery seems to have worked really well," says the Spaniard. "So now I'm just looking forward to getting back to riding like normal. Rio is always a complicated weekend because the asphalt is in poor condition, but it's the same for everyone, of course. If we can work well during the first two days of practice, I'm confident I can get a good race result."<BR><BR>Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) comes to Rio holding third overall in the 125 World Championship, just five points behind second-placed Manuel Poggiali (Gilera) and a further 23 behind series leader Arnaud Vincent (Aprilia). The 16-year old took a brave tenth-place finish at Estoril, despite a mid-race fall, but had hoped for better after taking pole position for the fourth time this year. "We got the bike perfect for the dry but then it rained for the race, that's the second time that's happened this year!" he smiles. "Rio is quite difficult because it's so bumpy, but we got the bike working well at Estoril. It'll be an important race because I've not given up on the title yet. I just hope it doesn't rain again because I don't like riding in the rain."<BR><BR>Team-mate Joan Olive (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) is chasing a place in the World Championship top ten. A no-scorer at the past two GPs, Olive knows he needs a good points haul at the next few races. "Luck was against me again at Estoril, maybe it'll be better at Rio where I had one of my best rides last year," says Olive.<BR><BR>GP racing stays out of Europe for the next month, with the Pacific GP at Motegi, Japan, followed by the Malaysian and Australian GPs on the following two weekends. The 2002 season concludes back in Europe, at Valencia in Spain, on November 3.