PHILLIP ISLAND, October 16 – Six-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi takes an 18-point lead into Sunday's pivotal Australian leg of the championship ahead of title rival Jorge Lorenzo.The Italian great, only the second rider in the history of motorcycling to claim world titles in all three classes, is in the box seat for a seventh world elite crown with three races left in the championship.
Rossi’s lead was cut by Fiat Yamaha teammate Lorenzo at the last MotoGP in Portugal after the Spaniard downed Australian Casey Stoner with the Italian in a distant fourth place.
Rossi won five consecutive MotoGP/500cc Australian titles from 2001 to 2005, but has had to settle for podium finishes in the last three years, with Stoner winning his last two home MotoGPs from start to finish.
In 12 visits to Phillip Island Rossi has only once failed to finish on the podium across all classes.
The 2009 MotoGP world title has boiled down to a fight between Rossi and Lorenzo, with Stoner closing to within three points of Spain’s Dani Pedrosa for third spot in the championship.
The quartet is likely to battle it out around the sweeping seaside track, rated by Rossi as the best in the world.
"This is the key moment in the championship with the three final races in a short period, so now we will see who can become the champion," Rossi said ahead of the weekend race.
"All the three other riders put in a great last race in Portugal, so it also looks as though Stoner and Pedrosa are in good shape to try and win this race."
Fiat Yamaha have dominated this season’s MotoGP manufacturers’ title and Lorenzo’s last start victory was the 10th for a Yamaha rider this year.
Lorenzo and Rossi have alternated wins since the Italian won in Brno, in the Czech Republic, on August 16 and a win for either here will equal the longest-ever sequence of successive victories for Yamaha in the premier class, a feat they achieved last year.
Lorenzo is laying down the challenge to his Yamaha teammate after winning two and runnerup in his last three races.
"After Estoril I have more options to fight for the title," Lorenzo said.
"There’s only three races to go and I want to win the title so I will have to win at least two of the last three races."
Stoner, who sat out three races with illness before rejoining the championship in Portugal, is confident the worst is behind him and he is looking to finish the season on a high for his Ducati team.
"My bike has been working at a really good level and it is nice to know that I can come back and be competitive," Stoner said.
"I know I have got a chance of winning this race and winning the last three in the championship."
Honda Repsol rider Pedrosa has recovered from his crash and subsequent 10th finish at Indianapolis on August 30 by finishing third in Misano and Estoril.
Rain is expected to clear to a fine day for Sunday’s race.
The remaining two MotoGPs after Phillip Island will be staged at Sepang in Malaysia (October 25) and Valencia, Spain, on November 8.