By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The breathtaking renaissance of Valentino Rossi may be traced back to his last visit to Australia, so it is fitting that the Italian MotoGP great can all but seal an eighth premier class championship at Phillip Island on Sunday.
Yamaha rider Rossi will make his 328th Grand Prix start at the picturesque seaside circuit, drawing level with retired record-holder and fellow Italian Loris Capirossi.
The championship has been reduced to a two-horse race between Rossi and team mate Jorge Lorenzo with three rounds to go and 18 points separating the riders.
The gap is handy but 36-year-old Rossi was reluctant to start calculating the potential results he would need to seal a magic eighth title to match the record of another Italian champion, Giacomo Agostini.
"It's quite impossible (to predict)," Rossi said this week.
"In three races, we will have completely different conditions, three different types of tracks, so I never do these types of calculation -- 99 percent of the time, it doesn't happen.
"We need to concentrate on Phillip Island and try to arrive in front of Jorge. This is the target, rather than making the calculation to arrive behind."
Rossi returns to Phillip Island to defend what seemed the most unlikely of race titles.
A distant second to Honda's runaway leader Marc Marquez last year, Rossi had all but resigned himself to another podium spot behind the Spaniard but his rival spun out of the race 10 laps from the end.
That gave Rossi his sixth premier class win in Australia and first at Phillip Island in 10 years.
The Italian has barely looked back on his rejuvenated Yamaha, claiming four race wins this year to draw close to another championship, five years after his last was sealed at Phillip island in 2009.
Double world champion Lorenzo has had his troubles Down Under, slicing off part of a finger during a crash one year, but he also has some fine memories.
He claimed the second of his championships at Phillip Island in 2012 with a safe podium spot behind retiring local hero Casey Stoner.
Lorenzo is confident he can push Rossi to the wire in the remaining races of the championship and believes he can take a crucial step at Phillip Island.
"I am fortunate to have competed in an era with some of the most talented riders in the history of the sport and for sure some of the best of the last 30 years," he said this week.
"This year if I win will be a more special feeling for me and Yamaha, especially to beat Honda after Marquez has won the past two years."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)