Japanese fans of the Red Bull X-Fighters are in for a treat this weekend as the 2013 World Tour is making its first-ever stop in Japan. The world's best freestyle motocross (FMX) riders are entertaining the crowd in Osaka at round four of the six-round championship battle.
The fans will have even more to raise the roof for, as Japan's Taka Higashino is riding high after taking third at the last round in Glen Helen, California and sits seventh on the points table. Defending champion is New Zealander Levi Sherwood who is fourth on the board, 100 points behind leader Frenchman Thomas Pages.
The FMX riders will be performing their incredible aerial acrobatics while flying through the air covering distances as long as 30 metres and as high as 15 metres in front of a sold out crowd of 11,000 spectators.
Pages, the winner of the season opener in Mexico City, is back on top of the world tour standings with 245 points following his second-place finish in Glen Helen, California while Dubai winner Dany Torres and Glen Helen victor Rob Adelberg are close behind.
Sherwood remains in the thick of things and could still figure in the title hunt with three events left.
"X-fighters is finally here in Japan and they're going to love it," Sherwood told the Weekend Herald after his first practice.
"I think it's going to be a cool event and I'm looking forward to getting some more points. We've had three winners so far and hopefully there'll be a fourth.
"It's been a bit of a slow start this season and my last round was no good. That's not too much of a problem, as we have to throw away a round anyway so it's back to business here in Japan."
Being able to drop a round levels the competition out quite a bit as the riders ahead of Sherwood in the title race will loose points whereas the Kiwi will drop the American round where he scored no points.
Sherwood is in good form heading into this weekend's round despite the hiccup in California, having finished third in Mexico and second in Dubai, and is confident a win is on the cards.
"I've definitely got a chance and the small injury I picked up in Glen Helen is not an issue any more. In freestyle you're always carrying some sort of niggle as everyone else is - it comes with the job.
"I use the pain as a measure of how hard I can push myself and if it hurts I'll stop, as when I finish riding freestyle there's still stuff I want to do and don't want to be carrying a big injury," said Sherwood.
The Kiwi doesn't have any big new tricks to unleash on his competitors as he's happy with his current repertoire and reckons he's best just polishing the amazing bag of tricks he already has.
"I've learned a couple of new little things along the way recently but nothing big. The idea is to stay healthy and at least get on the podium.
"It's much harder to come up with new stuff these days than it was a few years ago when freestyle was just starting. Having said that sometimes you get a surprise. There's always some new little variation at each round but nothing major," said Sherwood.
A lot these tweaks and modifications will go unnoticed be the general public.
However, ardent fans, and the judges, notice everything and the more clever little nuances the riders add into the major action picks up valuable points.
"I always concentrate on the smoothness and the flow of my tricks. I concentrate on myself and not what the others are doing and always want to be in control, which sometimes isn't rewarded by the judges," said Sherwood.
X Fighter Points after three rounds
1. Thomas Pages (FRA) 245
2. Rob Adelberg (AUS) 210
3. Dany Torres (ESP) 210
4. Levi Sherwood (NZL) 145
5. Josh Sheehan (AUS) 90
6. David Rinaldo (FRA) 80
7. Taka Higashino (JPN) 65