Czech Date For Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Riders
The 16-round MotoGP World Championship prepares to recommence after a three week summer interval, reconvening in Brno on August 22. The Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team approaches its latest challenge in far better shape than the majority of its rivals, after some outstanding individual and team performances since the start of the season in April.
World number one Valentino Rossi has displayed dazzling winning form in his first Yamaha year. His five 2004 victories thus far are as impressive as they were somewhat unexpected at this early stage of the new partnership. The upshot of the 25-year-old's points gathering performances, and the ever increasing capabilities of the Yamaha YZR-M1, is a 22-point lead over their closest competitors in the Riders' Championship.
Carlos Checa, the Fortuna-branded rider in Yamaha's cosmopolitan factory squad, has experienced an up and down season so far, his pinnacle performance was second at Le Mans in round three. He, like Rossi, is a big fan of the high-speed turns and committed downhill corner entries of the Brno track, a point which gives all involved a high degree of confidence at what is a Gauloises sponsored event.
Rossi's blue M1, as well as an on-track points gatherer, scooped an award from a spectator survey conducted at the Donington MotoGP weekend from British biking weekly Motor Cycle News (MCN). The bike was voted best designed machine of 2004, while the factory team was blessed with the accolade of favourite team in the paddock, proof of the overall prowess and high profile of the Yamaha factory effort.
Surfing high on the wave of Rossi's latest crushing triumph at the Donington Grand Prix three weeks ago, the team nonetheless continued its relentless pace of development by staying in situ to test one day later. The aim to solve some set-up issues which had appeared on occasion this year was achieved. After this successful one-day test the team has enjoyed its longest break since the start of 2004, recharging batteries in readiness for the final gruelling segment of the season.
ROSSI REFRESHED AND DETERMINED
Out to repeat his perfect performance of race victory, fastest qualifying time and lap record in last year's Brno event, Rossi knows he will have to labour hard in qualifying to repeat his 2003 success story.
"I made a beautiful race in Brno last year," said the Italian. "It's not necessarily my favourite circuit and I really don't know how the M1 will go there as it's so diverse; high speed but still with many turns, up and downhill sections, adverse cambers, et cetera. Anyway, Checa was good there last year and Yamaha is very fast there traditionally."
Rossi knows he has to keep the pressure on his opponents at this vital part of the season. "Although I'm leading the championship it's not by enough points to feel safe yet, every point from now on is crucial if we are to think about being in a position to win the championship. The win in Donington before the summer break was magic but there were still some problems and room for improvement. We made some good progress in the one-day test after Donington, where we tested new front fork settings and engine mapping. The stability felt better and it was a worthwhile day - but we still have a way to go."
Rossi acknowledges that it is not only himself he has to consider at Brno. "This year has so far been a real surprise and we have made remarkable progress. But Honda have made a lot of progress at the same time, and Sete and Max are stronger now than ever. I know that Yamaha will have been working non-stop through the summer break to make even more improvements, so let's see what happens in Brno. The riders have had three weeks off so everyone should be revitalized. It's certainly going to be a great second half of the season, perhaps with even better battles than there have been in the first half."
CHECA SETS TOP FIVE CZECH TARGET
A positive feeling from the previous Donington race has made the mid-season break a simplified affair for Checa.
"After Donington I asked my mechanics not to change too much on the bike for Brno," explained Checa, who finished sixth at the British Grand Prix three weeks ago. "I was really happy with the package we had in Donington and the bike was working well. The set-up and tyres felt good and I was able to ride the bike on the limit; hopefully this will continue in Brno. For the second half of the season I want to be consistently in the top five; this is my target and the target of the whole team, and we believe we can do it. I would like us to start like this in Brno."
"Every year we joke about this race being another 'home' Grand Prix for me after the Spanish and British races because it is in the 'Republica Checa!' It's a fantastic track, definitely one of the best we race at. It's safe, fast, wide and long with a good racing line, plus the facilities in the paddock are excellent. Although we may need a little bit more power there I think that it could be one of the best tracks for Yamaha this season. It's always a pleasure to race in Brno and I am looking forward to getting back into the action after the summer break."
DAVIDE BRIVIO -- TEAM DIRECTOR
The man charged with overseeing all aspects of the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team's progress, Davide Brivio, realises that nothing can be taken for granted in the Czech race, despite some excellent showings for his bikes and riders recently.
"In the past, especially in the two-stroke times, Brno was very good for Yamaha," said Brivio. "We also won the race with Max and the four-stroke M1 in 2002, while last year Carlos was running in the top group. The bike suits Brno but this year we have never been very good at circuits where Yamahas are supposed to be good! Having said that, of course it seems like both riders like the track and we can go there looking forward to some good results."
Given the closer than ever high levels of competition of riders and manufacturers in the 2004 MotoGP class, Brivio is glad that the most recent Donington one-day test delivered such favourable results.
"Our recent Donington session was very useful; something we had to undertake to make order out of some of the machine's settings. Really, to make more options available. It was almost a full day making experiments and checks. It could be particularly useful if we find ourselves at some circuits with set-up problems and have to make a decision quickly."
Few circuit locations are as historic as that of Brno. The 'new' circuit is encircled by the tendrils of the various 'real' road layouts that made up the various Czech Grand Prix venues of yesteryear. Only closed in 1982, the old track was replaced in 1987 by what is basically the current incarnation, subtly altered in 1996 to measure 5.403km in length.
The Brno circuit no longer boasts cobblestone sections, but as contemporary MotoGP circuits go, it is one of the best and most atmospheric, wending its way first down a hillside, dropping 73 metres from the highest point, before providing a power-sapping climb back up to the start/finish line.
Rossi was the first rider under the two-minute barrier in a Brno race situation last year, making the most of the undulating nature of the track on his Honda. Brno has nonetheless been a good circuit for Yamaha riders in the past, and priority number one will be to dial the YZR-M1 in for the seemingly never ending succession of fast chicanes, interspersed with similar radius medium speed corners.
Ultra-slow chicanes and their need for heavy braking loads are conspicuously absent at Brno. However there is still a heavier use of front tyre side grip than usual, due to all the downhill corner entries, with the bike on its side while negotiating negative cambers many times per lap.
One of the less technically demanding tracks on the calendar, the one crucial feature of the chassis set-up at the Czech venue is to have a good turn-in performance to make light work of the propensity of relatively high speed chicanes.
Falling within the traditional Italian August holiday period, local support from the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany is generally boosted in Brno by the legion of travelling Rossi, Melandri, Biaggi and Capirossi fans that colour the hillsides. Invariably, the most numerous and raucous will be those in the blue and yellow of Valentino Rossi.