The MotoGP World Championship paddock moved to a samba beat in Brazil on Wednesday as the teams and riders unpacked their crates and containers in readiness for the first of four 'flyaway' races at the Nelson Piquet circuit in Rio de Janeiro.

Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi, no stranger to the Rio party scene after winning two of his four world titles here, was already in festive mood as he arrived at the circuit with his hair dyed in the traditional green and gold colours of the Brazilian flag.

The Italian, who has won on his last five visits to this circuit in the three categories, recognises that this will be another key race in his career at what has unexpectedly become a talisman circuit for the Italian.

"When I first raced here on the 125 in 1996 I fell three times and thought 'I hate this circuit'," said Rossi. "After that it became much better for me and I have had some very good races.

"I won my first dry race on the 500 here in 2000 and that was a turning point for me because I finally learnt to adapt my style and after that I was able to go fast almost all the time," he continued. "Now I love this circuit and have some very special memories - especially winning the World Championship on the 250 in 1999 and on the four-stroke last year."

Rossi also confirmed that his much publicised contract negotiations with Honda have not progressed since the last round at Estoril two weeks ago, but insisted that his attention is now firmly fixed on the remaining five rounds of the current championship.

"I hoped to get the contract sorted out in the last month but it has not been possible and now I need to focus on racing," said the Repsol rider. "I have a 46 point advantage in the championship, which is a lot, but we have five important races coming up in a short time and I have to concentrate on them."

Brazilian rider Alex Barros confirmed he will be riding in front of his adoring home supporters, in spite of rumours that he would be ruled out with a shoulder injury. The veteran racer confirmed that he was not at full fitness, but was looking forward to a change of fortune this weekend.

"This season has been unlucky for me - since the first round I have not been at 100 per cent physically and I still need painkilling injections before every race," he confirmed. "Also the Yamaha has not developed as quickly as the Honda and the Ducati so hopefully they will have some nice presents for us at the last few races and we can finish the season in a positive way. This is a special weekend for me in front of my home fans so it would be an ideal time to turn the season around."

Yamaha colleague Carlos Checa supported Barros' optimism, claiming that the YZR-M1 machine was now beginning to close the gap on its rival machines and is suited to the fast and bumpy Rio circuit.

"Over the last few races the engine has improved a lot and I think it is where it needs to be," commented Checa, who finished second here two years ago and crashed out of a clear lead last season. "Now we need to target the chassis and find a good set-up for this circuit as soon as we can. A good balance is the key to this track and if we find that quickly then we have a chance of challenging."

As well as local hero Barros, Argentinean rider Sebastian Porto is counting on home support as he looks for a repeat of his first ever 250cc victory at this circuit last season.

"A lot of people have come down to support me, including my family and friends, so this is a big occasion for me," he said. "It will be tough because my Honda is still not as quick as the Aprilias, but I will try to make up time in the corners and slipstream them down the straights."

One of the men Porto will be chasing is title contender Randy De Puniet, who declared that podium consistency over the final five races would not simply be enough to guarantee the championship, even though five riders are separated by just 22 points.

"I think whoever wins the title needs two victories and three podiums from the last five races," said the Frenchman, who now lies third in the standings after three straight rostrum finishes. "Personally my aim is to keep up my consistency and go for the win whenever I get the chance - I'm not sure if that will be this weekend but I like this circuit and I think it suits my style so we will see."

In the 125cc class Dani Pedrosa leads the way by 34 points from Stefano Perugini but after a record eighteen races without a back-to-back victor and six different riders having taken wins, Saturday's race promises to be as unpredictable as ever.

 

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