Sixty three pages rattled through the typically efficient high speed Japanese fax into the press room at Suzuka on Sunday evening - and everyone of them came from Italy, telling the same story.

The press cuttings from the Italian newspapers had arrived and, without exception, they carried the same headline, as the Italian public woke up on Sunday to enjoy their croissants and cappuccino to read about Loris Capirossi's amazing pole-setting lap at the Japanese Grand Prix the previous day.

They love their heroes in Italy and Capirossi certainly fitted the bill perfectly with that staggering pole-setting lap round Suzuka that gave West such a magnificent start to its MotoGP partnership with the Honda Pons team.

Unfortunately for the team, when the Italian press coverage rattled through the fax on Monday morning, it was not Capirossi that made the headlines, as a rear tyre problem kept him out of the limelight in the race despite bravely leading in the early stages. He struggled on to finish a brave eighth and score eight vital world championship points that could prove so important by the end of the season.

Instead, it was his fellow countrymen Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi that employed the headline writers with their pushing antics down the main straight at Suzuka. There is nothing the Italian press enjoys more than a bit of controversy, and certainly Rossi and Biaggi gave them just that to set up a real showdown in Welkom South Africa at round two of the championship next Sunday.

Capirossi is no stranger to the Italian press and the headlines, however, and accepts it as all part of being a sports star in a country that has been brought up on the exploits of Italian riders and factories in grand prix motorcycle racing.

After all, it was Italian riders and factories that dominated that very first world championship way back in 1949. Alberto Pagani riding the Mondial won the 125cc title; Bruno Ruffo, riding the Moto Guzzi, won in 250, although it was a year later that Umberto Masetti brought Gilera success in the 500cc class. Then there was Giacomo Agostini and the all conquering MV Agusta factory that dominated grand prix racing in the sixties and early seventies, followed by the likes of Franco Uncini and Marco Luchinelli.

It was a 17-year-old Capirossi that soon took over. In 1990, in his first full season in the 125cc class he captured the world title at the first attempt at Phillip Island, where his fellow Italians Bruno Casanova and Dario Romboni ganged up to protect their young charge from potential champions Hans Spaan and Stefan Prein. Capirossi repeated his title win the following year, before switching to the 250cc class.

He won that title in 1998, but only after one of the most talked about incidents in the 52 year history of grand prix racing at the final round of the championship - the Argentine Grand Prix in Buenos Aires. Everything came down to a last bend confrontation between Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada to settle the outcome of the title. Whoever finished in front would became champion and, not surprisingly in such circumstances, they clashed within sight of the chequered flag and a world crown.

Harada went down in a fury, Capirossi stayed on to finish second - which was enough for the title. Even when he lost the points he gained for second place when Harada protested, the Italian was still world champion, and his points were later reinstated after an appeal.

Last year, Capirossi returned to the 500cc class with Honda Pons seeking to add a senior title to his 125 and 250cc crowns. In the end, injuries wrecked his championship bid, but he won the race that mattered to himself, his fans, the Italian public and the all important Italian press.

It was a magnificent all-Italian affair at Mugello where Capirossi won the Italian Grand Prix, fighting off Biaggi and Rossi who both crashed in their pursuit. Live Italian television figures reached record levels for motorcycle racing coverage at the height of the battle while the newspapers the next day had a field day.

Today, media coverage of the MotoGP championship has never been greater. Just under 250 journalists attended the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, and that figure will increase greatly when the championship arrives in Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on 6 May.

Included in the Suzuka contingent were 20 Italians who watched Capirossi and the West Honda Pons team's every move. Who knows what the headlines would have been on Monday morning if a big chunk of rubber had not prised itself out of the Italian's rear tyre at the start of the 21-lap encounter in Japan.

Last year, MotoGP produced 2907 hours of television with 171 countries receiving a live signal which resulted in an average TV audience of 354 million for each grand prix. This year the likes of Capirossi and Brazilian team-mate Alex Barros are expected to bring even more people to their screens at 1400hrs on a Sunday afternoons in the next seven months.

Most press interviews are about racing, but some dig a little deeper, as both Capirossi and Barros discovered in a feature that appeared at Suzuka. For instance, did you know that Loris Capirossi has never played in a casino, has never got drunk and never been in a fight. Also that Ingrid is his favourite woman's name, that his favourite writer is Stephen King and favourite historical figure Napoleon.

Team-mate Barros seems to have led not quite such a sheltered life. He admits he last got drunk in 1992, had a fight with his uncle three months ago and has won $600 in a casino. His favourite sportsman is the late Ayrton Senna and his favourite actor Sean Connery.

Both Capirossi and Barros list their favourite explorer as Christopher Columbus which is a great choice for two riders who are continually bringing the excitement and passion of MotoGP racing to new audiences throughout the world every weekend.

Now who's going to be making those headlines when the pages started rolling through the fax in the press office at Welkom next weekend.....


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