Reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi is back at the scene of his 2008 title celebrations this weekend, riding at Motegi for the the first time since clinching a sixth MotoGP World Championship at the track. The Fiat Yamaha man already knows who will be one of his chief rivals in his quest for crown number seven, and expects current series leader Casey Stoner to be equally as potent as he was at the opening race of the year in Qatar.
"I expect that Stoner will be strong again, so we just need to reduce the gap to him so that we can put up more of a fight," says Rossi, playing down his chances and portraying the Australian as the favourite for victory. "In the past Motegi hasn’t been a great track for me and I’ve had some bad races there, but I think last year cancelled that all out so I hope it can be successful for us once again this year."
Rossi won last year’s Japanese round to put the exclamation point on his title triumph, and will be favoured to pick up from where he left off. He is experienced enough to know, however, that past form counts for little when raceday comes around.
"My memories of last year at Motegi are incredible, because it was such a special victory after two year’s without the championship. This year of course will be very different, it’s only the second race and it will be quite strange going there so early in the championship," he explains.
"In Qatar we had one or two small areas that could have been better, so we will be trying hard to improve our setting during the practice time so that we’re able to run at the front on Sunday."