Kawasaki's long awaited debut in the MotoGP World Championship takes place at the Pacific Grand Prix, at the Twin Ring circuit, Japan, on Sunday. Veteran Akira Yanagawa will ride the 990cc in-line four-cylinder four-stroke machine in the 25-lap MotoGP race. Yanagawa will compete in the four remaining Grands Prix in preparation for a two-rider assault on the championship next year.

Honda will also be fielding another RC211V machine at their 4.801km home circuit with Brazilian Alex Barros riding one of the dominant machines for the first time, in the Honda Pons Team colours. Barros is currently the top rider of a 500cc bike in the championship and is relishing the chance to ride the 990cc Honda that has won 11 out of the 12 championship rounds this season.

His team-mate Loris Capirossi, who started last year's race from pole position and who joins Ducati next season, will continue to ride the NSR 500cc Honda.

Completing the trio of new four-strokes in Japan are Yamaha with wildcard Wataru Yoshikawa riding a YZR M1 990cc four-stroke that only Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa have ridden so far in MotoGP races.

Italian Valentino Rossi clinched the MotoGP championship with his tenth victory of the season at the last round in Brazil but there is a tremendous battle behind him for final championship standings. His great rival Biaggi moved into second place after finishing second, riding the M1 Yamaha. Rossi's factory Honda team-mate Tohru Ukawa crashed in Rio and slipped to third place, just eight points behind Biaggi. Those two are the only two riders, apart from Rossi, to have won a Grand Prix this year.

Behind them, Barros moved into fourth place in Rio just two points in front of the second Yamaha M1 of Spaniard Checa who crashed out of the lead in Brazil. Only seven points behind Checa is the unsung hero of the season, Japanese rider Norick Abe. Riding the Yamaha D'Antin machine, Abe has only failed to score in one race and has shown great spirit at every meet.

Former world champion Kenny Roberts, who won the Motegi race two years ago, produced his best result of the season in Brazil where he finished third on the GSV-R Suzuki bike. Since his operation to prevent arm-pumping, Roberts is returning to top form and with the four-stroke Suzuki improving every race, both the American and his Spanish team-mate Sete Gibernau are looking for more podium finishes in the remaining four races.

Last year Tetsuya Harada won the 250cc race but he will not be expecting a MotoGP repeat on the Pramac NSR Honda. World 250cc Champion Daijiro Kato was brought down in that race but won the previous year and he will be praying for no rain on Sunday after two disappointing performances on the RCV Honda.

Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano make their last appearances of the season on the YZR500 Yamaha. Starting in Malaysia next week they will ride M1 Yamahas in the Yamaha Tech 3 colours. The Proton KR duo of Nobuatsu Aoki and Jeremy McWilliams have enjoyed racing against the supposedly more powerful bikes this year on their three-cylinder 500cc machines but it will be tough at Motegi and even tougher next week at Sepang.

Spaniard Fonsi Nieto virtually blew away his chances of preventing Italian Marco Melandri clinching the 250cc world title when he crashed in Rio. Melandri, who like Nieto rides an Aprilia, finished a calculated fourth and leads Nieto by an impressive 45 points.

He can't clinch the title in the 23-lap race on Sunday but a good result could set him up for championship celebrations in Malaysia or Australia. Italian Roberto Rolfo's second place in Rio kept him a comfortable third, 25 points in front of the Argentinean Sebastian Porto who is without a doubt the man in form.

Riding the Yamaha TVK machine, Porto won his very first Grand Prix in Rio and has finished on the podium in the last four races. Nieto's Aprilia team-mate, Toni Elias is fifth in the championship after a fourth place in Rio while Italian Franco Battaini moved into sixth, after his second podium finish of the year.

Frenchman Arnaud Vincent has hit top form at the right time as he closes down on the World 125cc Championship. Riding the Aprilia, Vincent has won three of the last five races and finished on the podium in the other two.

He leads current world champion Manuel Poggiali by 27 points and it's crunch time for the Gilera rider who has not won a Grand Prix since June. Sixteen-year-old Spaniard Daniel Pedrosa crashed in Rio but is still a comfortable third, 34 points ahead of Italian veteran Lucio Cecchinello.



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