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Two world motorcycle championships may be decided at the Australian grand prix meeting at Phillip Island this weekend, with the premier event, the MotoGP, turning into a needle match between the two major contenders - Yamaha's Valentino Rossi and Honda's Sete Gibernau.

Rossi hasn't forgiven Gibernau's Honda camp for lodging the protest that relegated the Italian to the back of the starting grid at the Qatar grand prix on October 2, and has blamed Gibernau personally for instituting the protest.

Rubbing salt into the wounds, Gibernau won the race and Rossi crashed while trying to work his way back into contention.

Rossi's Malaysian Grand Prix victory at Sepang on Sunday was sweet revenge, especially as Gibernau, the only rider who is standing in the way of Rossi taking another title, was a disappointing seventh on his Honda, losing two places to Japan's Makoto Tamada on a Honda and Italian Loris Capirossi on a Ducati in the final six laps.

With only one race remaining in the season after the Australian GP - on his home soil of Spain - Gibernau must win at Phillip Island to keep his chances alive. He now trails Rossi by 30 points, 254 to 224, with 25 points being scored for a win.

"I don't want to start looking for excuses - we've had a bad weekend in general, both myself and the team," Gibernau said. "Things haven't gone well for us. We were unable to solve the problems we had in qualifying and the situation got worse in the race. Despite everything, we have to keep working and never lose hope."

Rossi's win was his seventh of the season since joining from Honda, giving Yamaha their greatest success since the days of Americans Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.

Rossi said he and his crew - led by Australian Jeremy Burgess and including two other Australians, Alex Briggs and Gary Coleman - had been motived by events in Qatar, when Honda protested against Rossi's crew laying rubber from a scooter wheel on his grid position.

The other championship that may be decided in Australia is the 250cc title, with young Spaniard Dani Pedrosa poised to add the quarter-litre title to his 125cc crown of last year.

Pedrosa rode a perfect race in Malaysia to take his sixth win of the season, this time by more than 13 seconds. However, Argentinian Sebastian Porto's second place ensured the fight will be continued at Phillip Island, where Pedrosa will need only two points to be sure of the title before the final round at Valencia in Spain at the end of the month.

Australian Anthony West was involved in a first-corner crash in the 250cc race at Sepang and, despite not having scored a point in the past three rounds, remains an excellent ninth in the championship on his privateer Aprilia.

Fresh from his great 125cc GP victory in Malaysia, Australian teenager Casey Stoner faces another challenge at Phillip Island. The 125cc world championship has now gone 37 races without a rider scoring consecutive wins and Stoner, riding for KTM, will be primed to end that sequence.

Stoner, who will turn 19 on Saturday, led at Phillip Island last year until he crashed. In Sepang he showed excellent form, holding off new world champion Andrea Dovizioso of Italy by 0.029sec. The win regained his fifth place in the title points with 129, while Dovizioso has an insurmountable 248.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Oceania championship between the top supersport riders from Australia and New Zealand introduced at last year's grand prix, 10 of the best 125cc GP riders from each country will compete in a trans-Tasman challenge.

A 15-year-old year 10 student, Brent Rigoli from Collovale near Bowral, will be the youngest rider in the 2004 Australian motorcycle grand prix. He finished 10th in this year's Australian 125cc championship.
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