The build-up to the 2009 Iveco Australian Grand Prix intensified on Thursday as the riders made their final preparations for the 15th round of the season and MotoGP’s current top four, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and home rider Casey Stoner attended the official Phillip Island pre-event press conference, in the company of Stoner’s countryman Chris Vermeulen.
As the World Championship leader, with an 18-point advantage over his team-mate Lorenzo, Rossi was the first rider to speak, the Italian stating, "This is the key moment in the championship, with the three final races in a short period so now we will see who can become the champion!"
When it came to Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha colleague Lorenzo to take to the microphone, the Spaniard gave his views on the championship scenario, commenting, "After my victory at Estoril I have a bit more of a chance to fight for the title as there is a big difference between being 18 points behind and 30 behind. But there are only three races to go and I think to win the title I will need to win these three races."
Stoner, meanwhile, having returned from a three-race break due to illness with a solid second place in Portugal, is ready for a battle at his home race and hoping to chase Pedrosa down for third in the standings. "Everybody is riding so well this year and we have had some good wins, but not as many as we want. My bike has been working at a really good level and it is nice to know that I can come back and be competitive. I know I have got a chance of winning this race and winning the last three," said the Australian Ducati Marlboro rider.
As well as attending the press conference, where he announced that he will ride for Kawasaki in World Superbikes next season, Vermeulen also attended a couple of additional events on Thursday.
Preparing for his final three races with the Rizla Suzuki team, Vermeulen received a special helmet ahead of his home round this weekend after talented Aboriginal artist Douglas John-Kelly painted a colourful design on a plain white Shoei helmet for the Aussie rider at a ceremony earlier in the day.
Vermeulen also enjoyed a visit to the nearby Maru Wildlife Park during the afternoon, as he, 250cc World Champion Marco Simoncelli and 125cc title candidate Julián Simón got up close and personal with Australian native fauna. The riders met a range of Australia’s unique native animals, including koalas, kangaroos, dingoes, wombats, a Tasmanian devil and a freshwater crocodile.
Earlier this week, Melbourne was the setting on Tuesday as MotoGP fans watched former World Champions and MotoGP Legends Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner ride through the city centre. The Aussie heroes were joined by 250cc World Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama on the street ride which took in Russell St. and Swanson St. before concluding in the city’s beautiful Federation Square.