Rossi and Checa Ready To Rumble in Rio
The latest stage in the development of the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team's season gets underway in Brazil this weekend, fresh from its victorious success at last weekend's Dutch TT in Assen.
World Champion Valentino Rossi secured his fourth win of the year and his third win in succession in historic Assen, matching previous championship leader Sete Gibernau for points and propelling Yamaha to the top of the manufacturers' championship. His win also pushed the factory team to the head of its own league table, with Rossi destroying yet another lap record on the way to victory.
Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa enjoyed less fortune on raceday in Assen, finishing ninth after starting from the front row, but with a proven race winning pedigree and a podium finish of second at Le Mans already in 2004, Checa is in a determined mood as the vast MotoGP circus flies on down to Rio for another weekend of intense competition. Carlos' best previous result around the 4.933km circuit is second, recorded in 2001.
Standing on reclaimed swampland the Jacarepagua circuit is the latest destination for Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha's travelling band of riders, engineers and management, the circuit on the outskirts of Rio a generally popular venue for all, despite the major feat of logistics involved in transporting the entire race effort to the Southern hemisphere a mere three or four days after a European GP.
With Rossi and Gibernau tied on 126 points, but Rossi in the lead because of his superior win ratio of four to Gibernau's two, Rio will provide another intense test for London-based Italian Rossi, in what has become a man to man fight for superiority so far. Making the very best of his six-race experience of the Yamaha YZR-M1 machine so far, Rossi will be going out to repeat his recent run of perfection in Rio, having won the last four races, from 2000 to 2003.
Also an adopted Londoner, Checa lies fourth in the championship overall, despite his recent Assen result of ninth. Promisingly fast in qualifying this season, Checa has many reasons to be confident as he approaches the latest circuit on the 16-round World Championship trail.
ROSSI'S RIO RAP
As the Rio GP approaches with almost unseemly haste, Rossi, a peerless competitor at the Brazilian venue, is confident that his first Yamaha ride in Brazil can lead to a fruitful outcome on raceday.
"Rio is a special track for me, I think I've had the most wins of my career there, it's six GP wins in total, and two of those have been in the MotoGP class," said the indomitable Rossi. "It's one of my favourite tracks for that reason, plus it has long corners for good sliding, and I've had a good feeling there on all the bikes I have raced there, and also I like the country of Brazil. It's probably not going to be warm there this time, which is a shame, it makes more sense to race there when it's hot.
"My Yamaha M1seems to adapt well to different circuits. It handles well, we have a good base setting and it seems we have to do less work to find the correct race setup. We're a winning combination, Yamaha and I. I'm very happy to be in this position at this stage. This will be my first ride with the M1 in Rio but I think we should be able to make a good job and to slide it well."
"It wasn't in our plans at this point but to be halfway through the season and leading the championship is incredible. Sete is always there, riding very well and as it stands it seems to be between him and me. It looks as if it will be a hard fight right through to the end. Recently no one is splitting us and we're only putting five points between us each time. This championship is tight! You can see the other Yamahas up front and the bike has got its got good points and bad points, but we've done an incredible job from the beginning to now."
After an incredible start to the year Rossi nominated his very first win for Yamaha as the most satisfying so far.
"All the wins are hard but the first one in South Africa was the most beautiful one, as I was on the limit all the way through. As the bike gets more familiar it also gets a little easier to race for the win."
CHECA RATES RIO HIGHLY
For Carlos Checa, the Rio race is a sensory delight, as well as one of his favourite venues to race at.
"I love Rio; the beaches, the people, the food. It's always great fun. The circuit is nice, I always have very good feelings there; I would even say that it's one of my favourites," said the 31-year old.
As Checa has proved in the past, the YZR-M1 can be competitive at Rio, even if there has been no pre-season testing there for riders or team.
"It should be a good track for Yamaha, the bike is working well. Maybe we need some more speed for the end of the straight, but we should be able to make up the difference throughout the rest of the track. I think we have a good chance there and I'm looking forward to the race a lot and we'll see what we're able to do. I think that the feelings I have with the bike at the moment and the feelings I always have at Rio should be a good combination, hopefully leading to a good result."
Checa's intentions for Rio are clear. "I would like to try for the podium, even for winning, I think this is possible. I'm not 100% comfortable with the set-up at the moment, or with the balance of the bike, we have some improvements to make and we must continue our progress. Having said that, I want to be careful not to make too many changes in a race environment; sometimes it's better to keep things the same and get used to them, rather than keep making big changes. I think this way we can continue to make me more and more competitive. Let's see what happens in Rio, and let's hope for good weather, as it's winter there!"
DAVIDE BRIVIO -- TEAM DIRECTOR
Having witnessed both Rossi and Checa spraying open the champagne on the podium this year, Davide Brivio wants the team to be able to indulge in more of the same, but recognises that Rio presents both a particular challenge as well as another opportunity for glory.
"Going to Rio after four wins in six races is a very nice sensation," said Brivio. "I am very curious to see how we will be there because our memory of the past is that we found it a difficult circuit for our bike but everything is different this year. So we can see if it will be good right away or whether we will struggle a little bit. We have had some good races at Rio, with Carlos in 2002 in the wet and in 2001, when they stopped and restarted. It will be interesting to see what type of bike setting issues could arise after one day.
"The championship is becoming more and more exciting and there seems to be something at the moment between Valentino and Gibernau. Alex Barros was with them at Assen for a time, with Max Biaggi you never know, Carlos also has the potential to be with them and any other rider has the potential to be good. We are all very happy to go straight to another race and see what will happen. With Valentino we are focussed on this very positive moment but with Carlos we have to put him back on the podium as soon as possible. The good race he made in Le Mans, with the podium finish in second, he can do all through the year. That is our main target now."
Of the logistical challenge to be ready at Rio after such a short a space of time in Europe, Brivio stated, "In three or four days after Assen all of our personnel and equipment will be in another part of the world. That is tough, but it is something we just have to do."
Lying as it does on reclaimed land, close to the coast, Jacarepagua has a tendency to be bumpy, as the land underneath has subsided since the venue was originally built in 1978. After the ultra-high speed corners of Assen, the rear suspension can now be softened off somewhat, to allow the greater suspension travel needed to handle the the stutter bumps and ripples which abound on the Rio tarmac.
Laid out both inside and outside an Indy-style banked oval, the Rio track is infrequently used, leaving it with a low coefficient of friction at the start of the weekend, which improves as each practice session goes by. This throws another factor into an already complex set-up equation, as higher speeds generally require increasingly stiff suspension.
Featuring a lot of longer corners, good machine stability and manoeuvrability are an ideal marriage at Jacarepagua, while the frequent corner exits mean that consistent rear wheel traction is also necessary, to make the most of the available horsepower.
With the team having no personal data for Rossi on a Yamaha YZR-M1 at Rio, there is an inescapable element of having to see how the bike reacts on base settings before the finer tuning can take place. Thus far the team has exhaustively tried a wide range of suspension settings and spring rates, irrespective of previous data at each track, to great effect come raceday.
As Rio is at sea level, horsepower output will be as high as anywhere else, but one possible interruption this year will be the weather. The round takes place in the Brazilian winter months, making day-by-day track conditions an even more unpredictable factor than usual.