Valentino Rossi arrives in his hometown of London for a traditional date with his army of British fans in Leicester Square on Wednesday as leader of the MotoGP World Championship, but is only just ahead of the field as the circus moves on to Sunday's Cinzano British Grand Prix at Donington Park.

Max Biaggi's victory at the Sachsenring last weekend has brought him to within just one point of the reigning world champion ahead of the ninth round of a refreshingly unpredictable season, which has already seen four different winners in Rossi, Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and, perhaps most unexpected of all, Makoto Tamada.

Biaggi's win in Germany was the 13th of his career, equalling Randy Mamola as the most successful rider never to have won the premier-class title. This weekend, the Italian has the chance to strengthen his bid to leave that particular record exclusively to Mamola by clinching the series lead at a circuit where he celebrated a controversial victory one year ago, when he was awarded maximum points after Rossi was penalised for overtaking under a yellow flag.

With seven wins, including two this year, and the highest points record for a runner-up already on his curriculum vitae after last season, Gibernau has perhaps even more reason than Biaggi to head into the summer break on a victorious note. The Spanish rider crashed out of his second race in succession in Germany, losing provisional second place in the championship to the Italian, and conceding thirteen points to Rossi at the top of the standings. Gibernau has never won at Donington, but scored his first ever podium there last year, when he finished second.

Alex Barros' chances of realising his World Championship dream this year remain slim, but the Brazilian showed signs of a return to form at Sachsenring, clinching a second place finish which took him above Giacomo Agostini to the top of the list of riders with most point scoring finishes in history. Barros lies fourth in the championship, 47 points behind Gibernau, but, particularly after recent events and with seven races still remaining, the Brazilian veteran knows anything can happen before the end of the season.

Like Yamaha colleague Rossi, both Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri have residences in England and will be looking to use their local knowledge to recover from a disappointing weekend in Germany. Whilst Checa crashed out of third place and dropped to seventh in the championship behind improving Honda rider Nicky Hayden, Melandri suffered a spectacular crash which also brought down team-mate Norick Abe. It was at Donington last year that Melandri first showed real signs of his MotoGP potential, running at the front of the pack before crashing, and will be looking for further consolidation on Sunday after scoring two podium finishes already this season.

Elsewhere, there are home races for several teams, including Suzuki, which enjoyed top ten finishes for both Kenny Roberts and John Hopkins at Sachsenring. Proton Team KR and WCM - who made the shock announcement on Monday that they will be teaming up with Czech mini-bike manufacturer Blata to produce a V6 prototype to run in the 2005 MotoGP World Championship - will also be racing on home soil this weekend.

Whilst the WCM team looks to the future, current World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson has fond memories of its past, having scored his best ever grand prix result with WCM at Donington Park on a ROC-Yamaha back in 1995. Hodgson, who is one of four home riders on display at Donington - alongside Jeremy McWilliams, Shane Byrne and Chris Burns - also won two WSB races at the Leicestershire circuit, including his very first win as a wildcard in 2000.

Hodgson has yet to establish himself at the top of the MotoGP championship, but his is undoubtedly going to be one of the most sought autographs at the traditional Day of Champions on Thursday. The paddock will open its gates to punters on the day, with a variety of activities, autograph sessions and auctions arranged to raise money for the MotoGP charity Riders for Health.

Aprilia is back in the hunt for its 100th victory in the 250cc world championship after being denied in Germany by Honda prodigy Dani Pedrosa, who now leads the series by 25 points from Randy de Puniet. Pedrosa crashed out on the last lap of the 125cc race at Donington last year, after colliding with Stefano Perugini whilst battling for the lead, but will be hoping for better luck this weekend as he looks to consolidate his surprise championship advantage ahead of the summer break.

Whilst the likes of de Puniet, Fonsi Nieto, Alex De Angelis, Manuel Poggiali and Sebastian Porto will be trying to deliver a milestone victory for Aprilia in the quarter-litre class, 125cc championship leader Andrea Dovizioso will be one of several riders looking to set another important record for Italian racing in the minor class.

Roberto Locatelli's victory in Germany on Sunday was the 199th for Italian riders in the minor class of grand prix racing, and Dovizioso would like nothing more than to make it 200 as he bids to maintain the series lead, which currently stands at seven points over his compatriot.

 

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