The MotoGP World Championship season is set to end with its customary bang this weekend at the final race of 2003 in Valencia.

The series lands on Spanish shores for the third time this season and will be greeted amongst the fireworks and festivities of a passionate capacity crowd eager to enjoy the final blast of four-stroke Grand Prix fever before the long winter respite, as well as the deciding race in the 250cc class.

Manuel Poggiali still leads the quarter-litre series as he has done all season but Roby Rolfo will be looking to take the lead for the first time in his career and with it the title as he lies just seven points behind.

Early this week the Ricardo Tormo circuit officials were already reporting ticket sales of over 95 per cent and confidently predicted that the precious remaining seats would be snapped up before the weekend, promising a race day crowd of around 120,000 people.

Whether or not they will see World Champion Valentino Rossi riding the Honda RC211V for the very last time has yet to become clear. The Italian has still not made an announcement on his machine, factory, team or sponsors for next season and the fact that almost every other rider in the class is also stalling on their own plans is testament to the weight of importance hinging on his decision.

In any case, 2003 has been a record breaking year for Rossi and Honda, who clinched the premier-class title together for the third straight season. Rossi became only the eighth rider ever to clinch a hat-trick of consecutive crowns and could this weekend extend his run of podium finishes to 22, equalling the all-time record set by the legendary Giacomo Agostini.

With their riders Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi already confirmed as second and third in the championship, Honda will be looking to cap an excellent season by equalling their own record of fifteen wins in a single season, set in 1997.

For Gibernau the weekend represents an opportunity to celebrate his best ever season in Grand Prix racing with his home fans and family after securing the runner-up spot in the championship with fourth place in Australia last week.

Over the last fifteen races the Spaniard has put up the strongest resistance to any of Rossi's title successes, having already collected more points than any other rider ever to finish in second place, and he will look for a repeat of his famous 2001 success at Valencia and his fifth victory of the season without the pressure of riding for the championship.

For Yamaha Norick Abe will take the place of the injured Marco Melandri, who is set to undergo an operation on the right shoulder he dislocated when he crashed out of the race at Phillip Island. The Italian youngster, who bailed out of third place after leading the race, suffered damage to the bone around the shoulder and will be out of action until pre-season testing resumes in January.

Troy Bayliss, however, has recovered from his crash in Australia and will be fit to ride the Ducati Desmosedici one year on from its track unveiling at the Spanish circuit.

Bayliss, who guided the radical red machine on a cursory couple of laps at Valencia before the racing got underway last season, was knocked unconscious in the crash as he challenged Melandri for the lead at his home race but he was cleared to make the trip to Europe with the rest of the team last Monday. Across the garage, Bayliss' team-mate Loris Capirossi will celebrate sealing fourth place in the championship on his 200th Grand Prix appearance.

After a disastrous wet race for Toni Elias in Phillip Island there will be no local concern but plenty of interest in the outcome of the 250cc World Championship as Manuel Poggiali looks to hold off an intense late assault from Roby Rolfo.

The San Marino rider holds a seven-point advantage over the Italian after maintaining leadership of the category since the first round of the season at Suzuka and he will be keen not to repeat the disappointment of one season ago, when he relinquished the 125cc title to Arnaud Vincent at this very race.

Elias now lies twenty points behind Rolfo and looks sure to finish third in the championship with Randy De Puniet and Fonsi Nieto currently tied for fourth place, 23 points behind.

125cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa is hoping to make it to Valencia to celebrate his title conquest amongst the massive local crowd enjoying the action from the stadium-style grandstands banked around the circuit.

Pedrosa arrived in Spain on Sunday and was immediately admitted to a local clinic for treatment on the two broken ankles he sustained in a practice crash in Australia. The 18 year old was released on Monday but is not expected to be fully fit for another four months, when he is expected to begin testing a 250cc machine in preparation for the step up to the quarter-litre class.

The 18 year old, who won the title two races ago in Malaysia, will be one of many intrigued spectators following a four-way battle for the runner-up spot in the series between Stefano Perugini, Alex de Angelis, Andrea Dovizioso and local favourite Hector Barbera.



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