Revving up!

THE 2006 World MotoGP Championship got underway at Spain’s Jerez circuit last weekend. Five-times winner and title holder in the elite class of motorcycle racing, Valentino Rossi, topped the practice board on his Camel Yamaha, but only managed ninth on the starting grid behind the Ducatis of Loris Capirossi and Sete Gibernau, Nakano’s Kawasaki, and Hayden’s Honda.

It was not to be a fortuitous beginning to the current campaign for the London-based Italian. Having made up five places by the first bend, Rossi was sent crashing into the gravel pit by Elias, who later apologised for his mistake. The Doctor did remount to finish 14th, but the race had lost some of its excitement. Gibernau also dropped out of contention with mechanical problems. Upfront, Capirossi celebrated a pillar to post victory, at times hard pushed by 20-year-old debutante Daniel Pedrosa, who eventually settled for second place ahead of Hayden.

The Spanish Repsol Honda Team rider had dominated the 250 and 125cc divisions in previous seasons and could turn out to become Rossi’s most dangerous rival this year. Around 131,000 spectators feted their young compatriot’s good showing in Jerez, as fellow Spaniards Lorenzo and Bautista also rode to victories in the other two categories.

The 2006 race calendar sees the action continue in Qatar on April 8, before taking in far-flung locations from Istanbul to Shanghai, Donnington Park and Phillip Island in Australia. Portugal’s Estoril will host the penultimate stage on October 15 before the competition draws to a close back in Spain two weeks later. This will be the last season during which 990cc engines are in use. From 2007, speeds will be reduced by the introduction of the less powerful 800cc version.

In the US, Britain’s most successful racing driver is coming under starters’ orders. No, not Jenson Button or David Coulthard, but Dan Wheldon. The 25-year-old is the reigning IndyCar champion, the first Englishman to hold that distinction since Nigel Mansell in 1993. Wheldon also holds the Indy 500 trophy. His main rivals for the new series, which began in Miami on Sunday, will be fellow Briton and former Andretti Green team-mate, Dario Franchitti, as well as sole woman driver, Danica Patrick, who set the scene alight with her pace last year. The US equivalent to Formula One racing is fast and dangerous, as was illustrated by the death of rookie Paul Dana during the opening race.

World Rally

DOUBLE WORLD Champion, Sébastien Loeb, extended his lead over Marcus Gronholm to nine points in the driver’s championship, by winning the Rally of Cataluña in Spain over the weekend.

Formula One

ORGANISERS HAVE announced that the 2007 Grand Prix will take place at the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway, replacing rival manufacturer Honda’s Suzuka track.