The Fortuna Yamaha Team has announced today that Norick Abe will ride as a replacement for Marco Melandri at the season-closing Valencia Grand Prix in Spain on Sunday 2nd November. Melandri will undergo an operation to his right shoulder on Monday 27th October in Forli, Italy so will be forced to miss the last round of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship. Abe will compete in Fortuna Yamaha Team colours for the third time this year, having already stepped in to replace Melandri at the season-opening Suzuka and Welkom races in April.

Twenty-eight-year-old Japanese rider Abe is a former GP regular who finished sixth in the 2002 Championship. In 2003 Abe has ridden as Yamaha's factory test rider and competed in several rounds as a wildcard.

MotoGP rookie Melandri suffered a dislocation to his right shoulder and haematoma to his left heel when he fell during last Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island. The 21-year-old was in the midst of a mighty battle amongst the top three riders when he highsided and fell from his M1 machine halfway through the race.

Melandri made a characteristically quick recovery, with his dislocated shoulder popped back in place at the circuit clinic even before the race was over. However, further examinations in Italy this week have revealed that the damage to the young Italian's right shoulder cap is worse than was initially diagnosed, and that an operation is necessary for it to heal correctly. After consultation with Melandri and the team it was agreed that it made sense for Melandri to undergo surgery now so as not to risk further injury and to ensure a full recovery in time for the 2004 pre-season testing in January.

"I'm feeling quite okay, I have a little bit of pain in my shoulder but not all the time," said Melandri today. "Since I got back from Australia I have had an extensive check-up with Doctor Costa and a shoulder specialist who operated on my left shoulder two years ago. The check-up revealed that everything around my shoulder is broken, and that only an operation will repair it for good. I had exactly the same operation on my left shoulder and that is absolutely fine now, so I know that it will heal without a problem.

"To ride a MotoGP bike you must be 100 per cent fit. The four-strokes are so heavy to control and your shoulders carry a lot of that weight. If I tried to ride in Valencia it would be very painful and I wouldn't get a good result. I'm going ahead with the operation now because it will give me time to recover and to be in perfect health for the start of 2004. After the operation I will need one month of rest, one month of physiotherapy, and one month of training. I'm sorry to miss Valencia but this way I will be ready to ride again in January."

News of Melandri's progress after his shoulder operation on Monday will be issued next week.

-fyt-