Sharks may surround the Phillip Island grand prix circuit but MotoGP World Championship leader Valentino Rossi is starting to feel as though sharks are circling even closer to home.

With three rounds remaining, reigning six time MotoGP champion Rossi has seen his title lead slashed to 18 points by Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who dominated the previous race in Estoril while Rossi sunk to fourth with grip problems.

Rossi finished a massive 23 seconds behind Lorenzo - the largest margin Rossi has ever finished behind a team-mate in a MotoGP race which he has not crashed and re-mounted in.

After the race, Rossi confessed that his young rivals are circling like sharks, waiting for him to show weakness. As well as Lorenzo, Rossi named 2007 world champion Casey Stoner as ready to bite.

Stoner made a dramatic return to finish second in Estoril after missing the three previous races with a mystery virus. The Ducati star has won his home race for the past two years and few would rule out three in a row for the #27 this weekend.

A less threatening figure is that of Spaniard Dani Pedrosa, who's fighting to hang onto third place in the championship from Stoner. The fast-starting Repsol Honda rider was injured on lap one at Phillip Island last year and has only taken one victory this year, but Pedrosa is hard for even Rossi to contain when he's at his best.

But Rossi won five premier-class races in a row at Phillip Island from 2001-2005 and 'loves' the high-speed seaside circuit. Eagar to avoid the risk of a last round title showdown, the kind of scenario that went against him in 2006, Rossi is looking to Phillip Island and the following Malaysian round to clinch his ninth world crown.

Andrea Dovizioso, Pedrosa's team-mate, is fifth in the championship and a previous 125cc winner while Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards will aim to use his wealth of experience in both MotoGP and Superbike at the track to bridge the eight point gap to Dovi.

Rizla Suzuki rider Loris Capirossi hates being called a veteran, but it was 19 years ago he became the youngest ever world champion when he won the 125cc race at Phillip Island. He repeated his win a year later. It will be a sad day for his team-mate Chris Vermeulen who makes his last Suzuki MotoGP appearance at his home track before switching to World Superbikes next year.

Also returning to WSBK in 2010 will be James Toseland. It's been a difficult season for the Yorshireman, but he's determined to leave with some good results on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. Toseland knows the Phillip Island circuit well from his Superbike days and last year became one of a very limited number of riders to re-pass Rossi during a race.

Italian Marco Melandri has a remarkable record at the track and is the only rider to have won in all three classes 125, 250 and MotoGP. He will probably not put in a repeat performance this time on the Hayate Kawasaki but has had a great season in ninth place in the championship.

Melandri's 2010 MotoGP team-mate, Marco Simoncelli, will be chasing a second successive Phillip Island win in the 250cc race as he hunts down the title leaders.

The Italian world champion, riding the M?tis Gilera, is now just two points behind second placed Alvaro Bautista and 28 points behind championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama. Simoncelli won the previous round in Estoril in which Aoyama, riding the Scot Honda was fourth, and Bautista crashed with a seized engine.

Championship leader Julian Simon crashed out of the 125cc race while leading in Estoril but still has a great chance of clinching the title on Sunday. He holds a 50.5 lead over his Aspar team-mate, second placed Bradley Smith who in turn has an 11 point lead over third placed Nico Terol.

If Simon finishes in front of Smith and Terol on Sunday he will be crowned World Champion with two rounds remaining.

The three leaders will need to keep a careful eye on fourth placed Pol Espargaro who's won two of the last three races on the Derbi.


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment