Catalunya Grand Prix
Montmelo Circuit, Catalunya
June 11, 12, 13, 2004
ROSSI AND CHECA PREPARE FOR CATALUNYA COMBAT
After an outstanding display of riding prowess from 2004 signing Valentino Rossi at the previous MotoGP round in Mugello last weekend, the entire Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team approaches the next hurdle at Catalunya with the natural optimism that two victories and three podiums from four races brings. The combination of Yamaha's YZR-M1 and Rossi has bagged two epic race wins in the series so far, the initial magical round one triumph in South Africa even eclipsed by the stunning success at Rossi's local circuit of Mugello.
After an accomplished second place at the Le Mans event, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa's good fortune deserted him in Italy, as he failed to finish the race after also experiencing some bad luck in final qualifying. In front of his own Catalan fans, however, Checa will have the perfect impetus to bounce back to his podium-stepping form, safe in the knowledge that he and Rossi now possess a package capable of going all the way to the top of the classification.
Rossi's Welkom and Mugello wins, allied to his two fourth places at Jerez and Le Mans, put him second in the overall championship fight, only ten points shy of the other two-time winner in 2004, Sete Gibernau (Honda). For Checa his no-score in Italy did not damage his overall position and he remains fifth, on a total of 36 points.
The Catalunya race is expected to be every bit as tough as the previous four so far, as the MotoGP class in general reaches yet another high water mark in terms of competitiveness.
Like Rossi's experience at the previous round in Italy, Checa's forthcoming race weekend is of more personal significance than any other on the 16-race calendar. As a native of Barcelona, Checa is acutely aware of how seriously the whole business of MotoGP racing is taken in Catalunya.
Each rider has an enviable record at Catalunya, with Rossi the runner up last year and the winner for the previous two years, while Checa tasted the fruits of victory in 1996. Checa's more recent form on home asphalt is still impressive, finishing fourth in 2003 and third in 2002.
ROSSI AIMING TO CONTINUE HIS CHAMPIONSHIP CHALLENGE
Rossi's recent near-immaculate showings at Catalunya give the native of Tavullia great confidence as he approaches a circuit he has already tested at in pre-season, posting the fastest time to boot.
"I had a pretty good race there last year because I made a good recovery after almost falling, and then managed to finish second. However it wasn't my best race because it should have been possible to win and then I made a mistake, losing the opportunity, which was a real shame.
"I think it's highly possible to perform well there this year because I already did well at the Barcelona IRTA tests. I was able to put in quite a lot of fast laps, including the one that won me the BMW! I really like the Barcelona track, it's a bit too bumpy at the moment but it has longer corners which I like, and the last part of the track I especially enjoy.
"I always think two of the most important races of the year are Mugello and Barcelona; we've obviously got Mugello under our belt now, and hopefully Barcelona will be one we can do well at as well."
CHECA RETURNS TO HIS RACING ROOTS
Eager to continue his resurgence to the top flight, Checa arrives back on home ground with a renewed vigour, looking for his second podium finish of the year.
"Things this year are so different from this time last year, and four races into the championship I already have one podium result, and as a team we have three podium results, which shows what level we're at."
The additional spur of his recent experience in Italy is another element pushing Checa's determination this weekend. "My Mugello fall was a big disappointment but I'm sure I can regain the confidence to do well at Barcelona. It's a track that requires overall stability and consistency. Last year I had a good race there, not making the podium because there were a few areas of the track I wasn't fast in, but I did finish fourth.
"I like the circuit and when you know your home crowd are supporting you it gives you even greater motivation. I think the championship is so close now that there will be a great battle this year between the usual front-runners. For the Montmelo circuit you particularly need a good combination of the right suspension and the right tyres. The last two turns are especially important, as it's easy to lose time there. The pressure will be on me but I'm looking forward to it!"
DAVIDE BRIVIO EXPLAINS HOW TO CONQUER CATALUNYA
"We are coming to Catalunya after a very good weekend in Italy with Valentino and now we have to continue at this level and try to get as many championship points as possible. That way we can close the gap on Sete; he is very strong at the moment.
"Carlos was very unlucky in Mugello as the weekend had started well for him. I hope Barcelona can be good for him. It's his home circuit and this will help him and motivate him. Hopefully he can have a fantastic result there.
We are feeling confident because we have seen our bike go well with both riders this season. We know they can both keep a good pace and they both have the potential to fight for the race win in Barcelona."
With an average lap speed of almost 160kmph, Catalunya is another of the faster tracks on the calendar, with a 1.047km long main straight and a fulsome 4.727km overall length. The fast exit onto Catalunya's steel and glass lined straight leads to some blisteringly fast top speeds being recorded, with 330kmph easily exceeded by the YZR-M1 in pre-season IRTA tests. With a fast right hand corner immediately after the main straight, the advantage gained by a high speed run down Catalunya's flying kilometre can be negated by a committed rider on a sweet handling package through the next section.
A proliferation of high and medium speed corners are integral to the Catalunya layout, counter pointed by two slow left hand hairpins. Bumps abound, adding to the complexities of suspension set up. To further complicate the chassis set-up equations, there are also changes in camber, as the track weaves its way between the spectators' vantage points on the hillsides, following the natural topography.
A true test of a complete set-up, the Catalunya track is the site of one of the main pre-season IRTA tests, with the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team having gained valuable information from these tests in March. With so many long corners Catalunya places great importance on side grip from the tyres with particular emphasis on the feel and feedback available to the rider on the entry of turns.
Similarities to the previous venue of Mugello abound and thus less radical set-up changes should be required in the crucial early sessions. The basic balance of the machine should be maintained on the settings from Mugello with suspension adjustment, rather than major alterations, expected to be the order of the day.