The 'Ring beckons Fortuna Yamaha to scene of former success
The Sachsenring circuit in former East Germany has been good to Yamaha in recent years. The 'Ring gave Yamaha victory with its YZR500 machine in 2001, and a second place with its YZR-M1 machine in 2002. Its nickname is deceptive as it is dominated by long corners and straights, and its 'spaghetti' layout means that overtaking is exceedingly difficult. It is the shortest track in the MotoGP World Championship and has seen various changes in the last few years. This year another change reduces the track length to 3,671km/2.281 miles. The German Grand Prix always draws some of the biggest crowds seen during the MotoGP calendar and this weekend will surely be no exception. Last year almost 185,000 spectators attended during the weekend, and the Sachsenring circuit are expecting more this weekend as MotoGP's international popularity is increasing rapidly.
In the sixties the Sachsenring circuit was one of the most popular circuits in Grand Prix racing, a dangerous street circuit until it held its last race in 1972. In 1998 a completely new circuit something closer to today's track was opened, and motor cycling's premier class championship has been staged there ever since.
This will be the ninth round of the sixteen-race series, and Fortuna Yamaha's riders are raring to get going there to transform their recent upward progress in performance into podium points. Both riders have solid histories at the Sachsenring circuit, and both riders have something to prove this weekend. Their qualifying performances at the British Grand Prix in Donington almost two weeks ago put them in strong starting grid positions and now they need to do the same in Germany, ideally with a podium finish. They come to Sachsenring having tested at the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic last week, via Italy where they visited the 'Yamaha Fest 2003' at the weekend - a Yamaha customer event organized by Yamaha's Italian distributor. After this weekend's race the MotoGP paddock takes a much deserved three-week break until the Czech Republic Grand Prix in Brno on 17 August.
"Normally this track suits Yamaha quite well," says Davide Brivio, the director of the Fortuna Yamaha Team, about the German circuit. "It looks like the M1 chassis suits the circuit well. So we are looking forward to a good race there. The last Grand Prix at Donington was very positive for us because Carlos was again the top group. Unfortunately Marco tumbled off during the race but it looked like he was going to do a fantastic race fighting with the top three riders."
"I hope that we can confirm this positive trend in Germany. Both riders like this track as well, and both of them did well there last year, Carlos with the M1, and Marco in the 250cc class."
The tight and twisty nature of Sachsenring lends itself to close racing. This is partially influenced by its rather short overall length - only just scraping in on the minimum allowed distance to host a MotoGP race - while the spaghetti layout itself has the reputation of making passing moves on fellow competitors difficult even at the best of times. It's made up of low and high-speed sections, and for this reason the Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1 will need to offer the difficult combination of agility and a degree of stability too, although agility takes priority.
What is unique about the Sachsenring circuit is that the four-strokes, and even the two-strokes before that, only use second to fifth gears, and the throttle position is opened fully for less than 10 percent per lap. Therefore it's all about smooth power delivery, especially as much of the driving is done off the left side of the tyre at a track that requires the power to be laid down exiting slow, tight corners with little camber and limited grip.
To help the YZR-M1 further in this regard the Fortuna Yamaha Team will opt for a more linear characteristic from the rear suspension linkage - to suit the needs of the circuit and the flatter torque characteristics likely to be used by the inline-four. Such a linkage ratio will offer a plusher movement through the first stage of the stroke before gradually increasing in intensity. It will not only improve traction off the turns, allowing the rider to get on the power harder and earlier than before, the new linkage should also reduce the effects of the M1's front wheel pawing for the clouds.
This will be supported with a rear shock set-up that sports a spring rate a little more on the softer side; offering more feel while working the rear tyre less over the bumpy surface. It is necessary, however, to ensure the swing arm motion is predictable as these settings, combined with the undulating layout and lack of grip, can lead to instability.
PODIUM FINISH IS CHECA'S GERMAN GP FOCUS
Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa's season has been on the up since the Catalunya Grand Prix over a month ago. His fourth place finish both there and at the ensuing Dutch TT in Assen, followed by a reasonable qualifying and sixth place finish in Britain's Donington Grand Prix nearly two weeks ago, show a change of trend in his performance. His British race finish moved him another step up in the World Championship standings from eighth to seventh. This change in performance is due to slight set-up changes to his YZR-M1 machine, and the tireless work of the Catalan-born rider and his crew, who hope that this weekend will bring more fortune their way.
Last year the Catalan was as fast as the front race runners in Sachsenring, just 1.1 seconds behind the race winner at half distance and frustratingly just metres behind the winner at the finish. Checa finished fourth at the 'Ring in 2002, unable to overtake third-placed Tohru Ukawa (Honda) in the last stages of the fight. The Sachsenring circuit's short length means that the difference in lap times is minimal and overtaking difficult.
"I've always had good results with Yamaha at this circuit," contemplated the Catalan rider who also claimed a top result here in 2001 when he rode to second place on his YZR500 two-stroke. "Judging by the progress we have made at the last few races I think this will be a good track for us again, the bike should run well there. It is difficult to manage the very short down and uphill climbs in the first section. I quite like the new section of the track that was developed for last year's race - the downhill looks like a ski downhill. It's better not to crash there at a high speed!
"It's a particularly nice race because so many people arrive for the event, and it has good facilities which have improved recently. It's a really popular area for bike racing. It's a short track, perhaps too short for MotoGP but anyway I will be happy to race there again."
'MACIO' MATCHES UP TO HIS NAME
Marco Melandri is going all out to make up for precious time lost earlier in the season, after injuries he suffered when he fell during practice at the opening Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka cost him just over one month convalescing. His return to the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez and his gritty rides to the finish there and in the following Grands Prix in Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya impressed everyone. His front row start in Le Mans gave him a much needed confidence boost but unfortunately some rear traction problems and an unlucky tyre choice in the wet conditions meant that he slipped back to fifteenth.
Although his physical condition has improved race by race, Melandri did not find full confidence again with his bike until the Dutch TT in Assen when he changed his base geometry set-up, and it made all the difference to the 20-year-old MotoGP rookie. His qualifying performance was solid and he started from the second row of the grid. The wet race affected Melandri terribly as it drove rain inside his helmet so much that he was forced to pull out of the race, missing out on much needed points. At the British contingent in Donington almost two weeks ago the young Italian was on great form again, taking his second front row start of the year, this time on the third slot. His race started magnificently, entering the first corner in fourth, going on to take third just a few corners on. He then stayed in fourth place at the back of the lead group which pulled ahead of the competition but touched the white line, lost the front, and tumbled out of contention for the race on lap five. This was a great disappointment to Melandri, who has finished just four of the eight races completed so far this season.
"It's a really good circuit and I like it, mostly because I have always done well there," admitted Melandri about the German circuit. Sachsenring is the scene of former success for the Ravenna-born rider, who won his first ever 250cc Grand Prix there in 2001, and again took the 250cc victory there last year in a bizarre episode. He was awarded the race victory despite crashing out of the lead. With the race having run the required minimum distance when the red flags came out because of rain, the result was calculated from one lap before the crash occurred, giving Melandri the win.
Melandri is looking forward to the chance to race again after his Donington surge, "I suddenly feel more comfortable with the bike, we made an adjustment to the rear weight in Assen and it's felt better since then. In Donington I was in a position to fight for a podium, and I think if I hadn't made that small mistake I could have fought with Sete and maybe taken third or even better, who knows? I am really happy with the work that my team and I are achieving now. We've just completed a two-day test at the Brno circuit last week, in the Czech Republic, and I felt quite good there as well. That's given me more confidence that I can do well, particularly at these forthcoming two races where we know the Yamahas run well."
"It's great to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel, after so long being frustrated by the delay that my accident caused at the start of the season. In my first few comeback races I couldn't judge how competitive I could be because of my injuries, from which I was still recovering. Now I'm physically back to normal and feel ready to fight for a podium in Sachsenring."
CARLOS CHECA : INFORMATION
Lives: Great Ayton, England
Bike: Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1
GP victories: 2 (500)
First GP victory: Catalunya, 1996 (500)
First GP: Europe, 1993 (125)
GP starts: 143 (23 x MotoGP, 92x500, 27x250, 1x125)
Pole positions: 2 (1 x MotoGP, 1 x 500)
First pole: Spain, 1998 (500)
Sachsenring 2002 results. Grid: 10th, Race: 4th
MARCO MELANDRI : INFORMATION
Lives: Derby, England
Bike: Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1
GP victories: 17 (10 x 250, 7 x 125)
First GP victory: Assen, 1998 (125)
First GP: Brno, 1997 (125)
GP starts: 81 (5 x MotoGP, 42 x 250, 34 x 125)
Pole positions: 8
First pole: Sachsenring, 1998 (125)
Sachsenring MotoGP lap record 1' 26.226 (Valentino Rossi, 2002)
Circuit best lap 1' 25.758 (Olivier Jacque, 2002)
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