The Phakisa Freeway at Welkom will this weekend set the pace for one of the most anticipated MotoGP seasons ever as world champion Valentino Rossi attempts to claim his fourth championship, on a new Yamaha YZR-M1.

The Phakisa Freeway at Welkom will this weekend set the pace for one of the most anticipated MotoGP seasons ever as world champion Valentino Rossi attempts to claim his fourth championship, on a new Yamaha YZR-M1.

Following his controversial departure from Honda, the team that led him to all his grand prix victories, the Italian is out to prove that his switch to Yamaha was a good move.

During pre-season testing in Catalunya recently, Rossi declared that he was "very, very happy" with the Yamaha.

"The bike is not bad, so I am happy," he said. "This run of tests has been really important. By testing at Sepang, Phillip Island, Barcelona and Jerez, we have tried the bike on all types of different corners and, overall, it seems good."

Facing Rossi will be a six-pronged Honda attack, riding the latest evolution of the RC211V. The V5 has dominated the premier-class since its introduction in 2002 and has only been beaten on three occasions, once by Ducati and twice by Yamaha.

Honda's Sete Gibernau, who claimed victory at last year's encounter, and Max Biaggi, will hotly contest Rossi's dominance in previous seasons. Gibernau and Biaggi finished second and third respectively in last season's fight for top honours.

The Ducatis of Troy Bayliss, Louis Capirossi and newcomer Ruben Xaus are expected to be breathing down his neck.

Rossi has said he enjoys racing at the high altitude track, where hot and sunny conditions are expected.

"I like Welkom. It's a good track and very technical. There aren't really long straights and the corners all flow, so you have to get them right."

But during the last two seasons at the South African circuit, Rossi was pipped at the posts both times - last year by Gibernau, who went on to take podium honours after setting a new course record.

It also remains to be seen whether Rossi's Yamaha has shaken off early teething problems, including concerns that it may be too underpowered to challenge the Honda dominance of the last few seasons.

The 25-year-old's test times on the YZR-M1 have been sensational, given that the machine took just one podium in 2003. However, at testing at Sepang in January, Yamaha's chief technologist, Masao Furusawa, said he had increased the horsepower to give the M1 a top speed of 320 km/h.

Original article from Car