Haslam set for GP comeback

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The Independent Online

Ron Haslam makes a brief return to the road racing after a seven-year absence when he will join his teenage son Leon in this weekend's French Grand Prix at Le Mans. "Rocket" Ron, now aged 43, was one of the leading 500cc riders during the 1980s, competing against such racing luminaries as Eddie Lawson, Randy Mamola, Wayne Rainey and Freddie Spencer.

This will be a one-off race for the Briton, competing as replacement for the South African Shane Norval, who broke both hands in a crash during the Spanish Grand Prix on 30 April. Haslam's last 500cc race was in the 1993 British Grand Prix at Donington Park. His sixteen-year-old son Leon races in the 125cc category.

The championship leader, Kenny Roberts, goes into Sunday's race full of confidence, having won two of the first four 500cc grands prix of the season on a Suzuki, including the race in Spain. Spain's Carlos Checa, second in the standings nine points behind the American, will hope to draw advantage from having tested at the track three weeks ago with fellow Yamaha riders Norick Abe, Garry McCoy, Max Biaggi and Regis Laconi.

Checa has finished second three times in four races this season, while Japan's Abe and the Australian McCoy have each won once.

Italy's Valentino Rossi and the Spanish world champion Alex Criville, third and fourth in the standings, have been testing their Hondas at Estoril, Portugal, hoping to solve problems which have denied them a 500cc win this season. Le Mans is staging a motorcycling grand prix for the first time in five years.

In the 250cc category, the championship leader Daijiro Katoh will be nursing an injury to his left hand sustained during Honda's testing in Estoril. Katoh leads the standings by 14 points from Shinya Nakano, the winner of the first two races of the season on a Yamaha.

Further challenges will come from the Frenchman Olivier Jacque, eager to impress his home crowd on his Yamaha, and Germany's Ralph Waldmann, winner of the Spanish Grand Prix for Aprilia and one of the few riders with knowledge of the Le Mans circuit, having won the last 250cc race here in 1995.

Le Mans rejoins the calendar following Bernie Ecclestone's purchase of the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France, where the French race has taken place since 1996. The 4.3-kilometre circuit has been revised since Le Mans last held the event to improve safety.

The most significant changes affect the Dunlop Chicane, now slower and leading to wider gravel traps, and the Museum Curve, also modified to lower speeds.

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