The MotoGP World Championship makes its debut at one of the most famous venues in four-wheel motorsport this weekend, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host the very first Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Although best known for its Indy 500 car race, the first event ever held at the 'Brickyard' was a motorcycle race in 1909. A new 2.618 mile road course, which includes the main straight of the oval circuit, has been designed to welcome the present breed of 800cc grand prix prototypes.

Leading the field into Indy will be MotoGP's biggest star, Valentino Rossi, who returns to the USA unbeaten since his magnificent victory in July's US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, handing the Italian a 75 point lead with just five rounds to go.

Rossi's shock victory over reigning champion Casey Stoner in California was the focal point of the season. The seven time world champion won the next two races in Brno and Misano, after Stoner fell from the lead at both events.

Stoner and Ducati Marlboro have to win on Sunday to keep the slimmest of title chances alive, but the young Australian will be riding through the pain of an old scaphoid injury and is also coming under pressure from third placed Dani Pedrosa.

The Repsol Honda rider caused a great stir after the race in Misano when he announced he would be switching to Bridgestone tyres from Michelin for the last five races of the season. Pedrosa trails Stoner by just two points in the championship but may take time to adjust to his new rubber despite a successful test in Misano on the Monday after the race.

Reigning double 250cc world champion Jorge Lorenzo will definitely be sticking to Michelin tyres on his Fiat Yamaha and finished a superb second behind team-mate Rossi in Misano to re-ignite his season. The 21-year-old Spaniard is fourth in the championship and is aiming to end the season as he started it, battling for victory.

Another rider having a tremendous debut season is former 125cc world champion Andrea Dovizioso riding the JIR Team Scot Honda. The Italian is expected to join Pedrosa at Repsol Honda next season after switching effortlessly from the 250cc class and is fifth in the Championship.

Two riders staying put next season are the Rizla Suzuki pair of Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi. Both are in good form and agreed new contracts for next season. Australian Vermeulen is sixth in the Championship while veteran Capirossi has bounced back from injury and is ninth.

They will be joined at Indy by triple AMA champion Ben Spies, who is the only rider in the MotoGP entry to have actually tested his racing machinery at the new circuit.

The Tech 3 Yamaha duos of Texan Colin Edwards and James Toseland have been beset by tyre problems. World Superbike Champion Toseland was happier in Misano and finished sixth but Edwards still had problems to finish a lowly tenth.

In addition to Edwards and Spies two other American riders will make their Indianapolis debuts. 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden should be fit to ride after missing the Misano and Brno races due to an injured heel. Hayden has done a great deal to promote the race and lives nearby in Kentucky. Also he could be announcing his signing with Ducati, to partner Stoner, next season.

John Hopkins races at home for the first time this year after missing the Laguna race through injury. It's been a tough debut season on the Kawasaki for Hopkins which was compounded when he missed the first day of practice in Misano. He will be joined at Kawasaki next season by Italian Marco Melandri, who will ride the last five races of this season on the Marlboro Ducati before terminating his contract.

Australian Anthony West has been told his Kawasaki contract will not be renewed.

Spaniard Toni Elias is hot property after two podium finishes in the last two races riding the Alice Ducati. The team wants him to stay next season but have told Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli that his contract will not be renewed.

The American fans will find the 14 year gap for the 125 and 250cc riders to return well worth the wait if the two races in Misano are a pointer. Tempers frayed and accusations of dirty - and indeed even 'criminal' - riding flew after a fiercesome 250cc encounter.

When the dust finally settled Italian Marco Simoncelli, riding the Gilera, increased his championship lead to 26 points over Mika Kallio who crashed out. Alvaro Bautista who won the race is third 21 points in front of Hector Barbara who played a major part in the majority of the controversial moments. It promises to be some re-match.

125cc championship leader Mike di Meglio crashed out for the first time this season in an equally tough race at Misano. He now leads Italian Simone Corsi by 28 points with Misano winner and reigning world champion Gabor Talmacsi moving into third place, 39 points adrift.


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