Valentino Rossi was back behind the wheel of the Michelin [Peugeot]-206 WRC he will drive on the Network Q Rally of Great Britain this week for two more days of practice.

The MotoGP star covered some 130km over two different stages on Wednesday and Thursday [Nov 7-8] in the forested hills between Turin and Savona, Italy.

His programme included night driving, and also gave him a preliminary taste of the cold, damp, muddy conditions the Cardiff-based event could well throw at him. A whole new concept in comparison with the glittering world of Grand Prix motorcycling that saw him collect his fourth world title earlier this year!

Three days after concluding the 2002 MotoGP season in sunny Valencia, Spain, last weekend, the freshly-crowned World Champion underwent a contrasting change of scenery this week as he continued to familiarise himself with the Michelin-206 WRC he will drive on the final round of rallying's premier series in Great Britain [Nov 14th-17th].

The test stages, located near the village of Osiglia, Italy [Savona], offered a generous mix of the difficulties he will face in the South Welsh hills, including fast, flowing forest roads, twistier, slower portions, and a slippery top film of mud on a harder, rocky base. After a bright first day, temperatures were as low as 3?C the following morning, while overnight snow and mist clung obstinately to the surrounding hilltops... Conditions, in short, as close to the real thing as he is likely to get without leaving his native Italy!

"My knowledge of the Rally of Great Britain is limited to what I have seen on television and in magazines," commented Rossi after the test. "I know it's a tough rally, generally with lots of fog and mud, so while today's conditions have been a good training ground, I am certain the event itself is likely to be more difficult still."

The prodigal biker's objectives for the two-day session were primarily to improve his feeling with the Grifone-run 206 WRC, to get in as many kilometres as possible and to accustom himself further to working with the pacenotes read out by his experienced co-driver, Carlo Cassina.

"With each run, I felt more and more confident with the car. I am starting to understand how it behaves in many types of situation and also how much grip and traction the different Michelin tyre options provide," he continues. "Learning about pacenotes is still probably the most complicated thing however. Happily, we are using a very simple system and I am slowly but surely getting used to listening to Carlo's instructions and applying them."

Competing in the dark is also something relatively new that Rossi will have to come to terms with in Wales... "I've raced once at night, in a bike endurance event, and I didn't particularly enjoy that, so it's been important to get some experience with the 206 before Rally GB, but I'm not a big fan of driving at night."

The session ended on Thursday afternoon in heavy rain that made the test stage treacherously slippery but which gave Rossi yet another valuable glimpse of the task that lays ahead next week...

Ready for the real thing now, Rossi? "Speriamo... I hope so!"