Valentino Rossi will be honouring the memory of the much-missed Colin McRae when he takes part in this weekend's Wales Rally GB for the second time, by sporting the 1995 World Rally Champion's flag on his helmet throughout the event.

Rossi and McRae - the latter tragically killed last year when the helicopter he was piloting crashed close to his home in Scotland - have both been successful in a number of significantly different disciplines during their respective careers in motorsport.

Aside from his 25 successes on the WRC stage, McRae also tried his hand at tin-tops with an appearance in the British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill with BMW in 1992, and in sportscars in the round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours endurance classic in a Prodrive-run Ferrari in 2004. He even got behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car in a car swap with then Jordan Grand Prix ace Martin Brundle in 1996.

Of late, Rossi has also been proving his versatility as a competitor, testing on a number of occasions for Ferrari's F1 team and successfully turning his hand to rallying, triumphing on the Monza Rally in his homeland of Italy in 2006 and coming home a highly creditable eleventh in Rally New Zealand later the same year. Recognising McRae as his idol, carrying the former Subaru star's flag on his helmet clearly means a lot to the man from Urbino.

"I have my design, but with the flag of Colin McRae," he explained, speaking to in Cardiff ahead of this weekend's WRC season finale. "Colin is one of my heroes - I grew up watching him with the Subaru. I was also good friends with him, so this is to remember him on his home rally."

The record-breaking, six-time MotoGP World Champion will be hoping to attract the support of the fans and spectators in much the same way as the ever-spectacular McRae so famously did, and on his second appearance in the event - having crashed out of the 2002 outing on only the second stage - he is adamant that salutary lessons have been learned.

"I think my approach was bad," confessed the 29-year-old - taking on the 2008 edition in a Stobart VK M-Sport-run Ford Focus WRC - when asked about his previous attempt. "I tried to push from the beginning, but it's better to do like what I did in New Zealand and cover some more kilometres to understand the car, and then push when you have the situation a little bit more under control.

"I have good experience with this [type of] car, because every year I've done some rallies, but I don't have enough experience in this type of rally, on the gravel, where [pace] notes and the co-driver are very important. The target is to improve this - driving the car whilst also listening to your co-driver.

"It's a great feeling [to be back]. I have always had a passion for this sport, so I'm happy to be here with a great car to do some kilometres and get some more experience. I hope to improve my performance during the three days, and get to the end."

Whilst team boss Malcolm Wilson - a successful former driver himself - has suggested Rossi may be capable of a top ten finish in the event, 'The Doctor' himself is more circumspect, aware of both the treacherous conditions encountered on the recce, and the strong field of some 86 participants he will be up against. Compared to New Zealand, he well knows, Wales Rally GB will be a whole different kettle of fish.

"I thank Malcolm a lot for saying that," he stated, "but it will be very difficult to get into the top ten for me, because there are more WRC competitors than there were in New Zealand. The important thing for me is to look at my times on the stages and the difference to the top guys.

"[The conditions are] incredible. It's a pity, because the stages are very good, but there's a lot of snow in some places. We'll also need to be a little bit lucky, because for sure tomorrow and on Saturday morning there will be a lot of snow. To control the car on the snow with these tyres will be tricky, but we'll try!"

by Russell Atkins in Cardiff