Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi enjoyed mixed fortunes in this afternoon's final qualifier at Phillip Island. Checa is confident for tomorrow's season-closing Australian GP, having put his factory YZR500 on the second row, but Biaggi ended up on row three after crashing while going for a fast time at the end of the session. Conditions were much improved from yesterday's gusting winds and rainstorms, though track temperature was still a very low 15 degrees.
"It's been very tough here because the conditions have been so changeable," said Yamaha Grand Prix manager Masahiko Nakajima. "But both Carlos and Max have pretty good engine and chassis set-ups, all they have to do now is choose the right tyres for the race. Tomorrow is very important for us, because we want to win the Constructors' World Championship. At the moment we are two points ahead of Honda, so it will be a very exciting day for all of us."
SEVENTH AND FEELING GOOD
Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa moved up to seventh in the final qualifier and is feeling bullish for tomorrow's crucial last race of the year. The Spaniard currently holds third overall in the series and needs a good result to hold that position and secure his best-ever World Championship result.
"After yesterday's strong winds we didn't have much time to get the bike right but the team has done a good job," said the Spaniard. "I'm feeling pretty comfortable on the bike, we just need to make a few small changes to the front suspension to help me into the slower corners here. I did some lots of consistent laps on a race tyre but never managed a really quick and clear lap. The second row is not bad at all, now we will finalise tyre choice, and if I can get a good start, I'm confident I can end the year well."
Checa holds a narrow five-point advantage over local star Garry McCoy (Yamaha) and Alex Barros (Honda), with team-mate Max Biaggi a further five points adrift.
TUMBLES AT CRUCIAL MOMENT
Marlboro Yamaha Team star Max Biaggi slid off his YZR500 in the crucial late stages of the session, just as he was building up to his traditional lightning-fast, end-of-session run. After his tumble, Biaggi quickly got back to the pits to mount his other machine, but by then the session was almost done.
"I don't know why I fell," revealed the mystified Italian. "I just lost the front and I wasn't braking or accelerating. I've never crashed like that before and we'll need to check the data to see what happened. I was just about to do some fast laps, and the bike felt okay, more stable than it had been yesterday. I felt I could still have a go on my other machine but I ran into a few problems. This leaves us with plenty of work to do in the warm-up, and we still have to make our final tyre choice. And, of course, the race won't be easy starting from the third row."
TAKES FIRST 500 POLE
Briton Jeremy McWilliams rode to his first-ever 500 pole position, dominating the final qualifying outing aboard his Aprilia RSV500 twin. His impressive speed gave Aprilia its first 500 pole since last year's Italian GP and Britain its first 500 pole since Niall Mackenzie was fastest at the 1987 Japanese Grand Prix.
"Aprilia have a new rear suspension link here and the bike feels like it did back at the start of the season," said McWilliams, who took 250 pole here last year. "The times came no problem, I could've gone faster. All I want to do now is get a good start and try and make the break, because I know I've got speed in reserve."
SLIPs TO SECOND
Fastest yesterday, Alex Barros (Honda) slipped to second today, 0.259 seconds behind McWilliams and a fraction ahead of Regis Laconi (Yamaha) and newly crowned World Champion Kenny Roberts (Suzuki)
"Losing pole doesn't really matter, I'm just happy to be on the front row," said the Brazilian. "The bike is perfect and I feel like I'm the most consistently fast rider out there. So long as I don't mess up the start, I'm confident I can ride a good race and end the year third overall."
<pre> FINAL QUALIFYING 1. Jeremy McWilliams (GBR) Blu APRILIA Team 1'32.552 2. Alex Barros (BRA) Emerson HONDA Pons 1'32.811 3. Regis Laconi (FRA) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM 1'32.964 4. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI 1'33.032 5. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Emerson HONDA Pons 1'33.282 6. Garry McCoy (AUS) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM 1'33.312 7. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'33.481 8. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA 1'33.520
12. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'33.757