Top Eurosport MotoGP commentator Toby Moody looks ahead to 2002 and in this first of two articles previews the new season, which kicks off this weekend in Japan:

The new season is about to get underway! A new dawn and a new era of racing which will take things to the next level with some truly fantastic, never seen before ideas on two wheels which will be like some machines out of the film Tron.

Four stoke technology is coming to MotoGP with 990cc prototype machines rather than homologation run machines that run in Superbike classes the world over. There are hardly any rules compared with F1, put it that way.

So what's the scores on the doors? 500cc 2 stroke versus 990cc 4 stroke baby F1 engines with either valve springs or pneumatic valves to get the revs well up. The 130kg limit of the 500cc V4 still stands, whilst the 4 strokes are 135kgs for 3 cylinders, 145kgs for 4 and 5 cylinder machines whilst the noise limit is 125 dB/A, and I can tell that the Aprilia in line triple engine sounds out of this world, popping and banging on the over-run like a rally car with maximum anti-lag installed. The Yamaha pops, bangs and spits foot and a half long flames just when it is being warmed up on the stand. Fantastic!

However, the leader of the pack at the moment is the V5 Honda that the 2001 500cc World Champion Valentino Rossi will ride. The good things is that it is an example of how to make a bike, but the trouble is that is may just be too good and thus leaving us with a return to the bad old days of MV running away with everything with the rest chasing behind. In F1 terms it is a season of 1988 proportions when McLaren won 15 of the 16 races - only losing one when Senna tripped up in his haste to pass backmarker Jean Louis Schlesser only to spin out.

The season will kick off in Japan at Suzuka on April 7th with the races then being on non-F1 weekends as a rule for the 16 races season. Welkom in South Africa is the second race before the real racing gets underway. The ground war as Wayne Rainey used to call it gets going at Jerez which has undergone a winter of facility rebuilding which I am sure will be exemplary to host the true Spanish Grand Prix in front of 150,000 fans who party all night in town before arriving at the track at 5 in the morning to then fall asleep and be awoken by the warm-up at 9.

Le Mans is a good place for the Brits to go to visit as it's not a million miles over the other side of the channel and with their circuit changes down over the other side of the hill form the Dunlop Bridge it may give us even colder racing than the impossibly close 125 race there last year which saw Manuel Poggiali win his first race.

Mugello is just the best motor racing circuit on the planet. The setting, the weather, the fans from all over Europe, the pretty girls - the whole gig is there. June 2nd in Italy is one of the biggest races of the year for both the fans and the tv figures. We have had some rain over the past couple of visits there, but hopefully the sun will shine on race day this year just as it has for the practice days in 2001 and 2000. The Rossi, Capirossi, and Biaggi fans all camp around the circuit in different places - or should that be fortresses? - the sound of the klaxons and firecrackers just deafening and watch for the RS Cube of Aprilia which may well have a back up in the shape of Marchellino Lucchi who continues to be the marque's test rider.

Mugello will also host one of the most awaited launches for many a year with Ducati unveiling their 2003 MotoGP bike on the Thursday before the race. I however hope to go to the factory beforehand for a sneak preview.

Catalunya offers a return to Spain as summer is well and truly underway. The fans are not quite as fervent as Jerez, but that won't stop them spurring on Checa, Gibernau and Elias. There are even more seats in the house this year as there has been extensive additions to the top of the main Grandstand with hundreds more seats. The main straight should be 4 stroke heaven as they hook up to well over 200mph therefore making life a little difficult for the 2 strokes.

Assen is the catherdral and always will be. Having always held a GP there since 1949 - the start of the championship - they have made some further developments over the winter to expand the paddock in their final phase of work which has taken three years. The back straight is similar in character so much of its charm will still be evident.

Not back to back but after a weekend in the middle for the British F1 GP is the British Moto GP at Donington Park which has gone through something of a renaissance over the past year with the first ever 500 victory of Valentino Rossi taking place at the track in 2000 causing the gates to swell to 38,000 in 2001. With the new technical regulations this year there should be even more flocking to see and hear the new spectacle. I can only hope that the facilities and the infrastructure is a little better than it has been in recent years. The championship has gone a step up and so have many circuits, so Donington has to as well, but whatever its shortfallings, The Craner Curves are one hell of a place to view a GP bike at flat chat.

Straight after Donington is the German GP at the Sachsenring which will always see a sell out crowd with the massively knowledgable fans packing in around what was the old circuit. This is the Monaco circuit for the bikes with it twisty and slow giving the privateers a chance to go in for the kill with the works machinery. Just look at what Jeremy McWilliams did there in 1998 with his first ever podium against Rossi and Capirossi for second and third positions.

Then we have the four weekend summer break which some like, and others don't. I am 50/50 about it as it is nice to spent a bit of time at home with the sun shining, but on the other hand I would like to keep the momentum going and finish the season earlier rather than rushing four races into the last five weeks of the Championship before finishing in November which is too late, but we'll see how it goes this season. The plus point of the weeks off is that injured riders get a chance to re-coup and get back on the case for the return at the Brno track for the Czech Republic GP which is one of the most social races of the year shall we say with all and sundry enjoying the locally made pils on the Sunday night. Back to the racing though, the track is quick and will always throw up something magical. Remember Doohan/Criville 1996 split by 2/1000th of a second? Remember Locatelli falling off with 4 corners to go at the 1999 race? Whitham's fireball off the Modenas in 1999 too all moments from a fantastic track.

Estoril returns for the third race at the track since our first visit in 2000. Windy but a cracking atmosphere always draws in a great deal of fans from all over Europe as the title races are really hotting up to fever pitch.

Then something different for the time of year. Late September and off to Rio which was the last race of the year in 2001. The track there has always given us some amazing races like 1996 when Doohan sped back to win after going off the track behind the pits after getting caught up with a backmarker, the 250 race of 2000 with Katoh on the grass out of the final corner and still winning, the 500 races of 1999 and 2001 with Biaggi fighting and Checa fighting respectively but Abe and Rossi coming out on top. Absolute barn stormers all of them. Just a shame the track facilites are not good enough to 21st century spec, but we go there for all sorts of reasons least of all because it is our only race on the American continent.

Then the long haul of all long hauls. Motegi in Japan, Sepang in Malaysia and Philip Island in Australia all on consecutive weekends in October. A real killer for the paddock and all concerned. Julian and I didn't get to the races last year as there were personal family reasons for Julian - we will be going this time around - but even doing the races from Europe was a killer never mind being away! Motegi is a spectacle and so is Sepang, but Philip Island takes the biscuit for the real racing track of all tracks.

Close finishes have always been the order of the day there such as we saw with the 500 races there last year when Rossi wrapped up the title with the slimmest of wins after one of the best races I have ever commentated on. Quite stunning and I hope it will be the same this year!

Hope for a weekend and then away down to the south of Barcelona by 350kms to Valencia making it a return to finishing season in Europe for the first time since 1995. Gibernau was brilliant there in the wet/dry race last year for his first ever win to thrill the massively patriotic crowd so he'll be hoping that the same will happen this time around on his V4 4 stroke Suzuki.

So who is going to win? Well....

Don't miss the seond part of Toby Moody's preview - coming soon....