This weekend heralds the arrival of MotoGP to the UK for the eighth Grand Prix and the halfway point of the 2003 World Championship. This Sunday the Fortuna Yamaha Team and its riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri will continue their quest to...
This weekend heralds the arrival of MotoGP to the UK for the eighth Grand Prix and the halfway point of the 2003 World Championship. This Sunday the Fortuna Yamaha Team and its riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri will continue their quest to achieve a podium finish in what is an extremely competitive contest for the crown of premier class World Champion. This year the top speeds are higher, the lap times lower, the bikes louder, there are more manufacturers involved and the crowds are bigger than ever. And it looks as though the hoards that attend the spectacle at Donington Park this weekend will be no exception. Ticket sales are already impressive and look set to exceed last year's 60,000 strong race day crowd.
Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Checa and Melandri will relish the chance to shine at what they regard to be their second 'home Grand Prix'. Both riders are UK residents, Checa is based in Great Ayton in Yorkshire, and Melandri lives in Derby, which neighbours Donington Park circuit. They will be as determined as ever to show their adoptive countrymen what they are capable of, and to improve their positions in the championship standings. Checa has had a surge of improvement at the past two races; in his birthplace Catalunya and the ensuing Assen TT, where he finished fourth place in both. Melandri will be hoping to put behind his difficult season start and show his true potential in his rookie year in the premier class.
After Donington the Fortuna Yamaha Team will not have much chance of respite as they head to the Czech Republic for a two day test on July 16 and 17 at the Brno circuit, then on to Germany for the Sachsenring Grand Prix on July 27.
BRIVIO CONFIDENT OF FORTUNA YAMAHA'S POTENTIAL IN DONINGTON
After Checa's performance at the past two Grands Prix, director of the Fortuna Yamaha Team Davide Brivio is sure that Donington can be the pivotal point of the season that can launch Checa to a string of podium finishes.
"The team has worked flat out all year but especially so in the last few races," he explained. "The high level of competition and a run of bad luck for both of our riders has pushed them even harder to get a decent result. We know that we should be on the podium and now Carlos is so close to getting that. He will be pushing extra hard at Donington because it's a home race, he has quite a good qualifying track record there as well, so now it's just down to hard work on Friday and Saturday, hopefully decent weather, and as always with racing, a little bit of luck. He is on good form both mentally and physically right now and ready to prove himself."
Checa's team-mate Marco Melandri, who is also a UK resident, has not had as good a start to the 2003 season as he hoped. In his inaugural MotoGP season the 250cc World Champion suffered a major fall at his first race of the year which left him with serious leg injuries. However his recovery was astoundingly fast and he is now physically fit but still hoping for a better result than he has achieved so far in the five races he has participated in. He has stepped up his physical training programme at the advice of his doctor to recover from his Suzuka injuries, mostly by swimming and motocross training.
Melandri's best finish so far was eleventh place in the Italian Grand Prix, and unfortunately his last race at Assen ended disappointingly as he was forced to retire due to a leaking helmet visor which impaired his vision. This was a big blow to the young Italian who had performed so well during the final qualifying session at Assen, where he vied for pole position with current Championship leader and MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi. Melandri currently lies in twentieth position in the championship standings.
Davide Brivio feels that Fortuna Yamaha's young prodigy is now at a stage to fight for a higher position. "Having talked about not being able to find a 'good feeling' with his M1, Marco has felt differently at the past two races," said Brivio. "He is only twenty years old and because of his mature attitude and vast experience in the racing world, it's easy to forget how new he is to it all. Also he has two races less experience than his class competitors this season, so it was bound to take some time for him to reach this point. In Assen his qualifying performance showed that he has a natural aptitude for the four-stroke class and hopefully in Donington he will have the chance to fight in the top ten riders and also earn himself some more points. There is no reason why he shouldn't be able to do that."
Donington was a circuit born with a reputation for being challenging both for rider and machine, a reputation that only gained further strength with the 1987 extension, which was carried out to allow Donington to form part of the Grand Prix calendar. It's this 'modern' extension that has added to the complexity of the circuit layout, which can be separated into two contrasting components. The first, from the start-finish line to the right-hander called Coppice Corner, is a flowing sequence of medium to high-speed corners that drop down Craner Curves into the Old Hairpin before climbing back out on the approach to Coppice. In an extreme contrast the circuit is completed with a sequence of stop-and-go switchback and hairpins between Fogarty Esses and Goddard Corner.
This one feature alone makes dialing-in a motorcycle chassis difficult, as a fast lap will come down to a compromise in all round set-up. Add to that the lack of grip, which some say is due to the jet fuel residue left by the nearby East Midlands airport, and the best result will be achieved by the rider who can ride around any chassis compromises.
The main aim is to find a chassis that offers a good pitching balance during braking and acceleration. Too much and you lose stability under brakes in the second half of the lap; not enough and the bike will be difficult to turn through the faster sweeping opening sequence of turns. The catch is that the first half of the circuit lends itself to a fast laptime, while a good setup for the second half - the stop-and-go addition - is where many riders with the right set-up can make an easy pass.
DONINGTON SHOULD OPEN DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY FOR CHECA
Catalan born Carlos Checa currently lies eighth in the chamionship and needs to race his way to a fifth place standing to beat his sixth position at the end of 2002. Of course 'El Toro' is hoping for much more than fifth. Theoretically Donington should be a high point-winning opportunity for Checa. His track record there with Yamaha's YZR-M1 machine is good, as he started from second place on the grid there last year, and gave his all during the tight race against Valentino Rossi. Unfortunately his weekend performance did not bear fruit as, despite leading from the race start until the 18th lap, he slid off without injury at the Goddards hairpin. He restarted the race but severe damage to his bike meant he was forced to pull out of the contest.
The 2003 season has shown Checa a tough time but he has regained his old form at the past two races. He finished fourth in the Catalunya Grand Prix, and fourth again at the wet Dutch TT in Assen two weeks ago. During both rides the Spaniard has shown his gritty old form, and he is set to continue that form in the United Kingdom. Another encouraging achievement for Checa was reaching a 1000 career point milestone after the 13 points he scored in Catalunya. He is the twelfth rider in the sport's history to achieve this acclaim.
Despite his fall in Donington last year, he still has total confidence in the circuit, "I led the race in Donington last year and if I crashed it's not Donington's problem," he reasoned. "I just crashed, and it was my own fault. I am a professional rider and I should be able to sense how hard I can push before I fall off."
Checa's history with the UK circuit is indeed chequered; his premier-class debut there was in 1996 when he ran well during the race until he was knocked down by a rival. He also had a terrible tumble there two years later, the worst of his eleven year GP career, when he had to have his spleen removed as a result of his internal injuries. He is a fan of the circuit regardless, and has not been put off at all by his experiences there, "I want to be on the podium in Donington, I don't know how but that is my target, and I will fight as much as I can to be there," he said. "I have a personal interest in Donington but I've never been on the podium there. I have a good feeling about the circuit because England is one of the countries with the greatest passion for sport, especially motorsport, so the atmosphere is always good.
"The track, however, is another matter as it's not great for me, particularly the last part. It's a bit like an appendix, very stop-and-go. I don't find the earlier sections of the track too bad though. It's strange to be in England, one of the most powerful motorsporting countries for racing in Europe but to ride on a slightly older track. It's a little bit slippery and the paddock is quite old. The redeeming features are that the downhill-uphill section is nice, and of course the people."
MELANDRI WANTS TO SHOW OFF TO FRIENDS IN SECOND HOME GRAND PRIX
Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Marco Melandri will not have very far to travel to this weekend's Grand Prix, as the Donington circuit is situated really close to his UK home in Derby. The Ravenna-born rider goes back there whenever he gets the chance in his busy racing and testing schedule, and relishes the chance to fully relax and not be called upon by his many contemporaries as he is whenever he returns to Italy. His best friend in the UK is Motocross rider Jamie Dobb, and the two are virtually inseparable when Marco comes back to Derby.
"It's like my second home Grand Prix", said the diminutive Italian. "I have raced there five times, and last year I won the 250cc race there. I don't like the track too much though. It's strange because with a small bike like a 125cc it seems really fast but on the 250 it seems small. With the MotoGP four-stroke bike I think it will be even slower! The grip there isn't the same every day, perhaps because of the fuel from the overflying planes. It' s really bumpy and there are three really small corners where it's easy to make a mistake.
"I would really like to do well in Donington, not just because it's my home and I will have lots of friends there but also because it's time now for me to progress to the next level with my racing. It's been a very frustrating season for me so far because I have gone from winning a World Championship last year to having almost to learn from scratch again. But I'm sure that I have the capability, and I have full confidence in Yamaha and my team that before the end of the season we can get some good finishes in the top ten, and who knows, maybe a podium!"