Newly crowned six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi returns to the country and city where he made his grand prix debut twelve long years ago when he competes in this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.

The 17-year-old long haired Italian made his debut in the 125cc race at the Shah Alan circuit in Kuala Lumpur. Twelve years and eight world titles later Rossi returns to Malaysia to ride in the penultimate round of the MotoGP World Championship at the 3.447 miles Sepang circuit near KL International Airport, which replaced Shah Alam and Johor as the Malaysian Grand Prix venue in 1999.

Rossi has a great record at Sepang, winning the premier-class race four times on both Honda and Yamaha machinery, but he will come head to head in the 21 lap race on Sunday with outgoing world champion Casey Stoner - who has an even more impressive record at Sepang.

The 22 year old Australian is the only rider to have won 125, 250 and MotoGP races at Sepang and arrives brimming with confidence following his victory for Ducati Marlboro at the previous round in his native Australia.

Stoner looks a safe bet to finish second in the championship after Spaniard Dani Pedrosa crashed in Australia but the Repsol Honda rider, who has won 125 and 250cc races at Sepang, will be keeping a wary eye on his great rival Jorge Lorenzo in fourth place. The Fiat Yamaha rookie is in great form and trails Pedrosa by 27 points with just two rounds remaining. He won the 250cc race at Sepang two years ago.

The closest battle in the championship is for fifth place with 27 points separating Andrea Dovizioso, the 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden, Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards and Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen. Hayden is the man in form, with two podiums from the last three races, but Dovizioso has had a brilliant MotoGP debut season and will replace Hayden at Repsol Honda in 2009.

Veteran Loris Capirossi is another rider with an impressive record both in Malaysia and Sepang. The Rizla Suzuki rider has both 250 and MotoGP wins in Sepang, finished on the podium on two other occasions and started on the front row five times including two poles.

Capirossi also won the very first 125cc grand prix in Malaysia, in 1991 at Shah Alam. He is tenth in the championship but only 16 points behind team-mate Vermeulen in eighth place. They will be joined in the race on Sunday by Suzuki test rider Nobuatsu Aoki who won the 250cc race at Shah Alam 15 years ago.

Shinya Nakano makes his penultimate appearance for the San Carlo Gresini Honda team at the track where he won the 250cc race eight years ago and in great form after finishing an impressive fifth in Australia. He will be replaced by Toni Elias next season who won the 250cc race at Sepang five years ago and who will complete his contract with the Alice Ducati team at Valencia the following week.

Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli is in a similar position with the Alice team while Australian Anthony West has two more rides with John Hopkins at Kawasaki before being replaced by Marco Melandri next season.

After failing to score double digit points at the last seven rounds, Edwards is rumoured to have been told by Yamaha to up his game, but rookie team-mate James Toseland arrives at Sepang fresh from a breakthrough performance at the Australian GP.

The Yorkshireman celebrated his 28th birthday with a thrilling sixth place at Phillip Island - swapping positions with Rossi in the process - and has been working flat on his stamina to produce a repeat performance or better in very different circumstances at the penultimate round of the championship.

21-year-old Italian Marco Simoncelli is on the verge of clinching the 250cc world title in Sepang after a breathtaking victory in Australia. The Metis Gilera rider holds a 37 point lead over his great rival Alvaro Bautista with just two rounds remaining.

It's a tough call for Spaniard Bautista, who won the 125cc race at Sepang on route to the world title two years ago, but as we witnessed at Phillip Island a couple of weeks ago he will not give up the fight until the chequered flag. Mika Kallio has dropped out of contention in third place but will be encouraged by his KTM team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama's victory last year.

Frenchman Mike di Meglio was crowned 125cc world champion in Australia after a fine victory but there is a tremendous battle for second place. Just six points separate in form German teenager Stefan Bradl, Italian Simone Corsi and 2007 World Champion and last year's winner Gabor Talmacsi.