Phillip Island is a very special place for Marco Melandri, who wrapped up his 250cc world championship there last year, and the Italian is hoping that a return trip in 2003 will produce some of the same magic.

After a thrillingly close win over Fonsi Nieto last season, Melandri is hoping that a return to the Australian circuit will inspire him to show some of the hard-charging form that has seen him challenge the leading group of MotoGP riders on a number of occasions in his debut year in the class. While injury in the early part of the year, a few bits of bad luck and a few difficult weekends have made the 21-year old's 'learning year' a pretty tough one, he remains determined to succeed.

He arrives in Australia after two very different races. In Japan two weekends ago, he rode superbly after being forced off the track in the early stages, to recover from 19th place and record a fifth place finish. A week later, however, and he was struggling with set-up and grip, and finally finished in eleventh place at the Malaysian GP.

"I won the 250cc title in Phillip Island last year, so it's a very special race for me," he reminisced, "But, even before that, it was one of my favourite circuits. It's very beautiful to be so close to the ocean, and riding there makes me feel relaxed.

"It's one of the faster tracks too, with very high corner speed and sometimes very strong winds. I think it will be quite a difficult circuit with the four-stroke bike. We didn't test there in the winter, but I don't think it would have made a huge difference if we had. For example, when we tested before the Czech GP at the Brno circuit mid-season, but I had a really good test and then a really difficult race. I don't know what changed, but I just didn't feel as comfortable.

"That's the nature of the challenge this year for me, so I'm not worried that I haven't tested the four-stroke at Phillip Island before now. I can't tell what will happen there, but I will certainly be working as hard as I can with my team, as usual!"



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