In the World Championship
In a World Championship dominated by Italians and Spaniards, with sizeable representation from countries such as France, Great Britain, America, Australia and Germany, some of the more ‘exotic' nations are putting their names into the mix in 2009.
This year's entry list features six riders flying the flag for their nation across the three cylinder categories on a full-time basis, with all having the chance to blaze new trails on the world stage.
Top of the list are two competitors in the premier class, with Alex de Angelis undertaking his second year on an 800cc bike. Representing San Marino, the San Carlo Honda Gresini man has been left on his lonesome in the World Championship after the departure from the scene of Manuel Poggiali –the Republic's only title winner courtesy of his 125cc and 250cc crowns in 2001 and 2003.
Similarly attempting to increase his country's title haul to two is Finn Mika Kallio, who has big boots to fill upon his arrival in MotoGP. Pramac Racing's former 125cc World Championship runner-up is following in the footsteps of the late great Jarno Saarinen, to date the only rider from Finland to take a title across the current classes. Kallio stays true to the ‘hang off' style of the former quarter-litre World Champion, thanks to his keeping with the tradition of ice racing in his homeland.
Austria and the Netherlands have both seen respectable numbers of riders competing under their respective banners in recent history, but the two European nations have experienced a dip in numbers for 2009. Michael Ranseder and newcomer Jasper Iwema are the sole representatives in the lower cylinder categories.
More notable is the arrival of Russian Vladamir Leonov in 250cc, ending a long drought of full-time riders from his country in the World Championship. In fact, previous points scorers Nikolai Sevostayanov and Endel Kiisa made their mark on the 500cc and 250cc classes back in the 1960's, over twenty years before the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
The rider most celebrated for his role in forwarding the development of motorcycle racing in his country, Ratthapark Wilairot could further add to his popularity in Thailand this year with a continuation of his steady progression. After a wild card appearance in 2006, Wilairot has been a regular fixture on the 250cc grid since 2007 and the first Thai rider to complete a Grand Prix season.
The sextet will have the hopes of their nations on their shoulders on April 12th, when they begin the season in Qatar.