Valentino Rossi gets his first chance to wrap up the 2008 MotoGP World Championship this weekend in Yamaha's home race at Motegi.
The 29-year-old arrives at the Japanese Grand Prix having won the last four races and holding an 87-point lead over reigning champion Casey Stoner, with only four races left. That means that third place on Sunday will be enough to seal the title even if Stoner takes victory.
Motegi is thus the first of four possible 'match-points' for Rossi, who is aiming to secure his sixth premier-class title and first since 2005.
Should he clinch it he would become only the second rider to regain the crown following a two-year gap - the other being Giacomo Agostini, whose all-time premier-class win record of 68 was broken by Rossi last time out at Indianapolis. Agostini, with eight titles, is the only rider to have won more premier-class world championships than Rossi.
"So, we have had a fantastic run of race and now here we are finally, with a 'match point' for the championship, and in Motegi once again!" said Rossi. "In 2005 I was in the same situation but I crashed and had to wait for Malaysia to win the title, and then last year we lost the championship in Japan.
"I really would like to win in Motegi, especially as it's such an important race for Yamaha and it would be a great reward for them for all of the work they have done. However, we cannot put too much pressure on ourselves and I will try to treat it like another normal race.
"We have a good margin of points, but there are still four more races so it is still not over! Everyone is very relaxed and focused, my Bridgestone tyres and my M1 are working very well and hopefully we can have another great weekend in Motegi," he added.
But Motegi has not traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Rossi. Despite scoring six podiums, Rossi has taken victory only once, which was back in 2001 before the advent of four-stroke MotoGP machinery.
"Of course we go to Japan on the back of a very positive trend – four wins in a row means we will have the support of some very excited colleagues at Motegi!" said team manager Davide Brivio. "When you are on a run like this it tends to get more difficult to keep winning because you know you can't continue forever but we have to go to Motegi in the same spirit as we have approached every race this year – let's just go to the track and see if it's possible to win.
"Of course, we know it is important because it is the first 'match point' and we could secure the championship. Personally, though, I would rather think that could happen as a consequence of a good job on our part rather than somebody else's misfortune.
"So that's our first target: prepare properly for the race, try to win it and then see what happens after that," he declared.