Brazilian GP: Yamaha Team preview

Inside Line No 12 Marlboro Yamaha Team Grand Prix Preview Rio Grand Prix, Jacarepagua September 19/20/21 2002 Marlboro Yamaha men seek Rio glory. This weekend Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa embark on their six-week...

Inside Line No 12
Marlboro Yamaha Team Grand Prix Preview

Rio Grand Prix, Jacarepagua
September 19/20/21 2002

Marlboro Yamaha men seek Rio glory.

This weekend Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa embark on their six-week around-the-world odyssey in Rio, where both men have high hopes of scoring the YZR-M1's second MotoGP victory.

The Italian and Spaniard have been lightning fast over recent weeks, taking two pole positions, a win and a second place at the last two GPs in the Czech Republic and Portugal. The team's ever-improving form can be attributed to unstinting work from all concerned - riders, team crew and factory engineers - and their efforts should mean more glory in the final five rounds of the first-ever MotoGP World Championship.

Saturday's Rio GP is the first of four 'flyaway' races that take riders and teams out of Europe for the second time this year. The race is followed by events in Japan, Malaysia and Australia, held over three consecutive weekends, and the season finale at Valencia, in Spain, on November 3.

Marlboro Yamaha have an excellent record in Brazil, having won races at all three of the country's GP venues. Eddie Lawson won the 1988 Brazilian GP at Goiania, Wayne Rainey won the 1992 event at Interlagos and Luca Cadalora won the 1995 Brazil GP at Jacarepagua.

SMOOTH OPERATORS EMBARK ON WORLD TOUR

MotoGP racing is all about speed. But delivering winning speed over a World Championship season requires more than horsepower and handling, it requires major feats of organisation and logistics, especially when the Marlboro Yamaha Team has to compete on three different continents in the space of five weekends. When the Milan-based crew touches down in Rio this week they bring with them no less than eight tonnes of equipment, part of a total paddock payload of almost 200 tonnes, flown around the world in two Jumbo 747 freight planes.

"This is an incredibly busy time of year for us, the schedule is so tight that everything has to operate smoothly," says Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "And life was made even more complicated by the latest European race being in Estoril. After Rio everything is flown to Tokyo, then Kuala Lumpur, then Melbourne, before returning to Milan, from where it's trucked down to Valencia for the final race. With so much travel and so little time between races we have to prepare all the necessary parts before we leave Europe. It's a massive operation but it's part of our job and everything is properly looked after."

Two weeks ago at bumpy, slippery Estoril, Marlboro Yamaha Team star Carlos Checa scored his first MotoGP pole position, a performance that brings the team to Brazil in optimistic mood, because Rio's Jacarepagua track is also bumpy and slippery. Non-stop improvements to the team's YZR-M1 have made it as fast and fine handling as anything on the MotoGP grid, and further detail set-up work at last week's Estoril tests should give Checa and Max Biaggi an even better chance of success at Jacarepagua, where riders need speed and handling in abundance.

"The last five races of the season look very interesting," continues Brivio. "Max won the M1's first race at Brno last month and I think we have a good chance of winning more races this year. Last time at Rio both Carlos and Max went very well and we're confident that we can be in the fight for victory once again. We have scored two poles and two top-two finishes at the last two races, which proves that we're making constant progress with our bikes, and both our riders are riding really well. Max has already won this year and I think Carlos is also ready to win, a victory would be a fantastic boost for him."

The most recent improvements to the M1 have focused on chassis performance. Last month at Brno Biaggi and Checa received modified chassis that are still being fine tuned for the best-possible handling and turning. "We found a new direction with the latest chassis during our post-race tests at Brno," explains M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda. "This involved a slight adjustment of the bike's centre of gravity, which helped front-end feel, and a small adjustment in the swing-arm pivot area, which improved rear-end traction. We've also been working on the rear shock to make the rear suspension more progressive, so that the riders can get on the throttle earlier. We continued in this direction at Estoril and we'll be working with Öhlins and Michelin to make the bike even better at Rio. I think we can have a good weekend. The track is fast and open, it's the kind of place where the four-strokes should be very dominant."

BIAGGI STILL CHASING SECOND OVERALL

Winner of last month's Czech GP at Brno, Max Biaggi is aiming to get back up front at Rio after a rather difficult weekend in Portugal a fortnight back. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man struggled to find a perfect set-up for his M1 around the awkward Estoril circuit but managed to salvage a useful sixth-place finish from the rain-lashed race. Those World Championship points could be vital in the Italian's bid to overtake Tohru Ukawa (Honda) for second overall in the first-ever MotoGP series.

"I felt that the new chassis was better at Estoril but we couldn't find the right front-end feeling," says Biaggi, currently just 12 points behind the Japanese. "There's no doubt that we are more competitive now and I feel we have the chance of another good race at Rio. The track isn't so bad - it's fast and quite a lot of fun, but everything will depend on the state of the asphalt. It's one of those tracks where no one goes to test, either during the season or during the winter, so no one really knows what the circuit's going to be like. Quite often the surface starts off pretty dirty, so it's not until final qualifying or even race day that the grip level is really good. The layout isn't so bad; my favourite section is the first few corners after the start-finish straight. I always enjoy Rio and I like South America. I'd like to stay for some holidays, but we never get the chance because the schedule is so busy at this stage of the season."

Biaggi finished a close third at Rio last year, just six seconds behind winner Valentino Rossi (Honda) and Marlboro Yamaha Team-mate Carlos Checa. He finished second in the 1999 Rio 500 GP and second in the 1992 and 1995 Brazilian 250 GPs.

CHECA READY TO WIN WITH M1

Carlos Checa comes to Rio on a high, two weeks after his best weekend of the 2002 season. The Spanish star scored his first-ever MotoGP pole position at Estoril, making him favourite to win his first MotoGP race. But a soaking-wet race day prevented him from continuing his dry-track dominance around the challenging track. Nevertheless, he recovered brilliantly from a slow start to claim second place, his fourth podium finish of the year.

That pole position proved that Checa now has the pace to win in MotoGP. For more than a year he's been working with Yamaha engineers to perfect his Marlboro Yamaha Team M1 and now he's ready to beat all-comers in the world's premier bike-race series. "We lost our way at the two races before Portugal but now I have a nice feeling with the bike, it's going really well," he says. "It was a shame that that it had to rain at Estoril but I'm now fully confident in the bike and also in my own ability. If we can work on set-up as effectively at Rio I'm sure that we'll be able to have a good result.

"Rio has been a good track for Yamaha in the past. Last year I fought for victory but I was unlucky at the end. And I think it should be good for the four-strokes - the main straight is very long and most of the corners are quite fast and open, which is better for the four-strokes. It's a fun racetrack, especially when you have a lot of horsepower. The main concern, as usual, will be grip level. Sometimes in the past it's been pretty bad, so we'll just have to wait and see how it is on day one.

"Everyone likes going to Brazil, it's a very different place for us, with a beach nearby and lots of friendly people. It's just a shame that we don't have enough time to have fun and do the tourist thing. Of course, the main concern for me is the track, not the area around it, and if you have a good race, it doesn't matter where you are."

WHAT THE TEAM SAYS

Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief
"Rio is pretty bumpy and the grip level is usually quite low, though I'm sure Michelin will help us in that respect. We'll continue our work on the new chassis because the weather prevented us from doing too much during the Estoril race weekend. Max could already feel that the new chassis offers improved front-end performance, so we continued working in that direction during our Estoril tests. I hope we can get a good set-up on Thursday, keep improving from there, so the bike is 100 per cent for race day. When the track is bumpy and slippery you need good front-end feel and more rear-end traction, so the new chassis should work well for us at Rio. This is our first race outside Europe for a while but that isn't a problem for us. The only difference is that we don't have the team trucks outside the back of the pits, but we're well organised and have everything we need."

Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's crew chief
"Rio is like Estoril in some respects, so we should have a good base set-up from which to start. And the M1 should be good here. You need a lot of speed at Rio and our engine is really quick now, plus the new chassis seems to help over the bumps, which will be important this weekend. Normally when you have a low-grip track you use softer suspension to find some grip, and that's also good for the bumps. We have good and bad memories from last year's Rio race, Carlos fought for victory but was unlucky at the last turn. After getting his first pole with the M1 he's now really keen for his first win. I think he would have had a very good chance of winning at Estoril if the race hadn't been spoiled by rain. Maybe Carlos has been unlucky but I think the luck is slowly coming to us. I'm quite excited at the way he's riding at the moment."

THE TRACK

The Jacarepagua circuit has been hosting rounds of the motorcycling World Championships on and off since the mid-nineties. The track staged its inaugural GP in September 1995, taking over from the original Brazilian GP venues of Goiania (which hosted the 1987, '88 and '89 Brazilian GPs) and Interlagos (which staged a one-off race in '92). The '96, '97, '99, 2000 and 2001 races at Jacarepagua were all run under the mantle of the Rio Grand Prix.

The circuit itself is fast and open, encouraging close racing; in fact only one of the six premier-class GPs staged at the track has produced a winning margin in excess of one second. Mostly fast, bumpy and slippery, the circuit may not allow gravity-defying cornering like some grippier tracks but its 1.1km back straight (one of the longest in GP racing) promotes slipstreaming, which helps keep riders bunched together all race long. Slipstreaming is a crucial game of cat and mouse played out on longer straights. Riders can gain advantage by chasing another machine, using the vacuum created by the lead bike to improve their speed and slingshot ahead. The Jacarepagua lap record is five years old because the surface has become more bumpy in recent years.

JACAREPAGUA
4.933km/3.065 miles
lap record: Tadayuki Okada (Honda), 1m 51.928s, 158.662km/98.588mph (1997)

-myt-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Tohru Ukawa , Wayne Rainey , Eddie Lawson , Davide Brivio