MotoGP riders discover delights of Istanbul

The MotoGP World Championship paddock set up at the Istanbul Park circuit today as the series landed in Turkey for the first time in its 56-year history. The riders and teams have streamed into the country over the last few days, some finding time for a brief trip home whilst others travelled directly from Australia and spent the first half of the week uncovering the cultural delights of Europe's gateway to Asia. Today Carlos Checa and Shinya Nakano visited some of the most famous places in Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia mosque and the Grand Bazaar marketplace.

Whilst much of the excited talk amongst the city locals surrounded the arrival of MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi this afternoon, much of the attention at the track was focused around Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden. The pair have emerged as Rossi's most consistent rivals over the second half of the season and they are currently locked in a thrilling battle for the runner-up spot, with the same number of points and only two races left to decide the outcome.

"Even though it was a dream to finish second in the World Championship at the start of the season it is now my main objective," admitted Melandri, who is in his first season with Honda after contesting two MotoGP seasons for Yamaha. "To achieve it would be a nice way to pay back (Team Manager) Fausto Gresini and Honda for believing in me. I'm looking forward to racing in Turkey because it is a new circuit. This year we already visited Shanghai, where nobody had any reference data, but I felt comfortable straight away and had a good race. The circuit looks nice and it's another important race for me."

Hayden currently holds a slight advantage over Melandri in the championship having taken a single victory earlier this season at Laguna Seca. Like his home circuit Istanbul Park runs anti-clockwise and the former dirt-tracker thinks this could work in his favour. "I guess I grew up on circuits that run anti-clockwise whereas these European guys are used to it going the other way round so maybe it is an advantage for me," said Hayden. "My results this season back that theory up but I'd like to think I can go both ways and be competitive over each of the remaining tracks this season."

Dani Pedrosa has his mind focused on the final two rounds of the 250cc World Championship despite having won the title with his seventh victory of the season at Phillip Island. The Spaniard will be moving up to the MotoGP class next season and wants to sign off from the quarter-litre category in style. "It was really important for the team to win the title in Australia and it was also a relief after a few tense weekends," said Pedrosa. "Now there are two races left and we all have to concentrate as much as always and try to win. This has been a long trip but the reward has been worth it. They're waiting for me at home and I'm sure they will be at Valencia, where I will be back with the fans who have supported me all season."

Pedrosa's 250cc rival Randy de Puniet has similar objectives following an announcement four days ago that he would follow the Spaniard up to the MotoGP class in 2006. The Frenchman has been confirmed by Kawasaki as team-mate to Shinya Nakano for next season but he is also attempting to maintain his focus purely on this weekend's events. "It is a massive opportunity for me and I am absolutely delighted but I am still an official Aprilia rider until the end of the season," said De Puniet. "I want to win another race in the 250cc class and that is my aim for the last two races."

Whilst the titles have been decided in both the MotoGP and 250cc classes, the destiny of the 125cc World Championship is still up in the air. Thomas Lüthi currently leads the series by 12 points from his only remaining rival Mika Kallio but says he won't be getting the calculator out just yet. "We are leading the World Championship but everything can change in one race," said the Swiss teenager. "I had a bad day at Qatar but the same thing happened to Mika at Phillip Island. We're in Istanbul to win the race and we won't be points-watching."


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