MEN STAY SAFE ON WIND-SWEPT ISLAND
Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa ended this afternoon's first qualifying session at wind-lashed Phillip Island sixth and eighth quickest. Squally conditions dominated the day with two rain storms spoiling this morning's opening practice session and another cloudburst soaking the track before this afternoon's outing.
The wind was worst at the entry to the 200kph turn one, local star Garry McCoy (Yamaha) and '99 World Champion Alex Criville (Honda) crashing in separate incidents after losing control to the 80kmh gusts.
"I think we'll have to get some Yamaha yachts sorted for tomorrow's session and hoist the spinnakers!" joked Marlboro Yamaha Team-manager Geoff Crust. "Seriously though, conditions were very treacherous today and after seeing Garry and Alex crash, it's better that the guys keep something in reserve for tomorrow, though they both went well today. You don't learn a lot about set-up when there's so much wind but we've plenty of data from last year to go on."
ON POLE FOR A MOMENT
Despite the tricky conditions, Marlboro Yamaha Team star Max Biaggi battled for pole, going fastest with six minutes remaining, then dropping to sixth as other riders upped the pace. Despite the quickfire shuffling of the leaderboard, lap times stayed over two seconds off last year's pole, due to the wind and a very cool 16 degree track temperature.
"I don't think I've ever ridden in such windy conditions," said the Italian. "It's so inconsistent that you get blown around in different places every lap, and it makes it really hard to change direction and very easy to go off line. We're trying to make my bikes more stable for these conditions and if we can do that, then I can start looking for fast lap times. The other problem is the temperature, this is probably the coldest day we've had all season, so it's not easy to find the right tyres."
SURFIN' THE BREEZE
Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa was running in the top four in the closing minutes of the session, finally slipping to eighth. Like his rivals, the Spaniard found the going tough around the wind-blown circuit, especially into the turn one right-hander.
"I had a couple of big scares there," he said. "You're flat-out in sixth approaching the corner and a couple of times the wind from the right of the track was so strong that I couldn't even get the bike turned into the corner, I locked the rear at about 200kmh and went sideways, like speedway. But I think we're okay whatever the conditions; we have a lot of experience with wind because my crew chief Mike Webb and Mike Sinclair (the Marlboro Yamaha Team's senior race engineer) are both very keen windsurfers! And if it rains hard for Sunday, I'll be okay because I spent last week scuba diving in Port Douglas!
"The wind also makes things difficult out of the corners, because as soon as you touch the throttle, the front goes light and the wind takes it away from you. The gearbox is a mess too, because you're doing corners at different speeds every lap, according to what the wind's doing."
Alex Barros (Honda) grabbed provisional pole from new World Champion Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) in the closing minutes of the session. The Brazilian -- who has already started this year's Italian, Catalan and British GPs from pole -- is chasing a good result here to help him secure third overall.
"The conditions are very difficult," he said. "The wind changes every time you go out, every lap, so getting a trouble-free lap is largely a matter of luck. They say it's going to be less severe over the next few days and I hope so, because racing in these conditions would be bad."
IT'S A WASTE OF TIME
Kenny Roberts ended the outing just 0.012 seconds off Alex Barros and only 0.062 ahead of third-quickest Valentino Rossi (Honda), wishing he wasn't out there at all. "Riding today is a waste of time," said the American. "We shouldn't be out there, not for safety reasons, but because we're not learning anything, about tyres, suspension and so on."
<pre> FIRST QUALIFYING 1. Alex Barros (BRA) Emerson HONDA Pons 1'35.141 2. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI 1'35.153 3. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA 1'35.215 4. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA d'Antin 1'35.215 5. Regis Laconi (FRA) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM 1'35.76 6. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'35.776 7. JeremyMcWilliams (GBR) Blu APRILIA Team 1'35.943 8. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'35.993