Valentino Rossi made his grand prix debut in the 1996 Malaysian 125cc race at Shah Alam, a circuit he also remembers for its unusual off-track hazards.

"It was my debut in the world championship in '96. It was a great track apart from the snakes in the run-off area!" Rossi said. "It was good. I liked it a lot. I finished sixth in the my first race, which was great. I did a victory in the '97 race. It was a good track but I prefer Sepang."

Sepang hosted its first Malaysian MotoGP in 1999 and, as the main pre-season testing venue, is a circuit Rossi has ridden more than any other.

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"I like a lot Sepang. It is one of my favourite tracks," said the seven time MotoGP champion. "The bigger problem is the temperature because it will be very, very hot during the weekend and I think it is the most difficult race for the riders. Because physically you are at the limit and you have to be fit to keep the power and the concentration.

"About the layout, it is a great track. I was racing here from the first year in '99 and for sure it is the track where I ride the bike more [than any other], because of all the winter tests from 2000. So I've done a lot of kilometres here, but it is always a great emotion because it is a technical track, fast and wide and suitable for the power of MotoGP.

Rossi starts this weekend's Malaysian MotoGP on the back of his second victory of the season at Phillip Island in Australia. It was also Yamaha's fourth race win in a row, a remarkable comeback considering Honda won the opening twelve races.

"For me it was a good season from the beginning, because I did good races also in the first part. But Yamaha has won the last four races, two for me and two for Jorge - also [because of] the mistake by Marc - but it looks like we are closer to the Hondas so it is possible to fight harder.

"We are very happy personally. A second victory is very important and especially to try to arrive second in the championship. It will be a hard fight with Dani and especially Jorge."

One rider famous for finishing second in the championship is 500cc legend Randy Mamola, title runner-up on four occasions between 1980 and 1987. Mamola has joked with the Spanish media that he's delighted to hear Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa talking so highly about finishing second.

"I think that Mamola is a little bit similar to Dani, a lot of victories in MotoGP - I think Dani has made the most victories without winning the championship and the second is Mamola," Rossi said of the American.

"I don't remember very well Mamola [racing] because it was a long time ago, but he also had the potential to win the championship. He won a lot of races but in the end always arrived second. It is difficult. A little bit frustrating I think.

"But in our case this year the situation is a little bit different because we won some championships in the past and especially it is a challenge that is very personal - trying to arrive in front to Jorge especially and also for him, because we are team-mates.

"This year our speed is very close. So we are very close in the points, very close in the number of victories and the number of podiums [this year]. So it will be very important and it is a motivation to stay concentrated and try the maximum."

Rossi starts the penultimate event of the championship eight points ahead of Lorenzo and 25 clear of Pedrosa, whose Repsol Honda team-ate Marc Marquez wrapped up the title two rounds ago in Japan.