This weekend Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri will pack up their bags and start their epic six-week journey around the world for the final sector of the MotoGP World Championship. This weekend's action will take place at...
This weekend Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri will pack up their bags and start their epic six-week journey around the world for the final sector of the MotoGP World Championship. This weekend's action will take place at the Jacarepagua circuit in Rio, Brazil, for the eleventh round of the contest. After Rio, the team continues its voyage to Japan, Malaysia and Australia, before the season's closing round in Valencia, Spain on 2 November.
The Spanish and Italian Fortuna Yamaha riders have both been striving to achieve a much sought after podium finish, which has unfortunately eluded them until now. Nevertheless Melandri's recent fighting form which stood out at the British, German and recent Portuguese rounds of the championship, and Checa's continually bullish efforts, indicate that the podium target might not be far from their reach.
The MotoGP World Championship itself is closer than it has been in the recently all-Rossi-dominated years, as just 36 points separate current leader Valentino Rossi and second placed rider Sete Gibernau. At the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril two weeks ago the Fortuna Yamaha riders collected more valuable points, with Marco Melandri riding to seventh place, his best finish of the season so far, and team-mate Carlos Checa finishing eighth.
As Team Director for the Fortuna Yamaha Team, and many years of experience managing racing teams, Davide Brivio appreciates the need for the team to remain positive and focused at a time when every point is crucial, "Carlos' result in Estoril was not what we were expecting but we have looked into the problems he experienced there and understand where we need to improve certain aspects of his set-up," said Brivio. "We have high hopes for him in Rio, where he had such an amazing fight last year in the rain, and the year before in the dry. I think he could have the chance to go for a podium finish as it's a track he feels comfortable with. Carlos has enough years of experience to be able to make a comeback, and I hope Rio is just the start.
"Marco is on a real roll at the moment, and in Estoril proved that he can ride a good race to a good finish. Although he had some surges of brilliance where he was in the top places in Donington and Sachsenring, he did not necessarily have the experience with the M1 to see that through to the race finish. Then in Brno he had a troublesome weekend in terms of setting up the bike, but he worked as thoroughly as possible with his crew all weekend and recognised that given the tight competition in this year's MotoGP class, the racing has to be strategic. It's not just about riding as fast as you can. Last weekend he found a reasonable set-up much earlier in the weekend, and managed to ride his best race yet to the finish line. I have every confidence that he can do the same or better this weekend in Rio."
Both Fortuna Yamaha riders flew directly from the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril to a Yamaha event at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France, where they launched Yamaha's new R1 model. Many other Yamaha riders attended the event, including Checa and Melandri's fellow MotoGP riders Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque, and Stefan Everts, Jurgen van de Goorbergh, Simone Sanna, Christian Kellner, Jorgen Teuchert, and others.
"It was a great event and a chance for our riders to take their minds off the pressures of the MotoGP championship," said Brivio about the event. "It was a really good experience to have so many Yamaha riders in the same place at the same time - it's amazing how competitive they are even away from their own sports. It took all our efforts to slow them down when riding the new R1!"
CHECA RETURNS TO THE SCENE OF LAST YEAR'S DRAMA
Carlos Checa experienced perhaps the most dramatic race of his career in last year's Rio Grand Prix. The Fortuna Yamaha Team rider enjoyed a reasonable weekend of qualifying in the dry to finally take fifth place on the starting grid. His Rio race started in mayhem when he found himself in neutral as the contest began, and he was the last rider away from the grid. However the Spaniard fought back by carving his way through the pack of riders at an amazing speed. He was regularly lapping over one second faster than the leaders, and as high as 2.5 seconds quicker at one stage.
Eventually he took race leader Rossi seven laps from the chequered flag but frustratingly slid off a few corners later. Checa had raced from last, to first, to DNF in under one hour! He is not perturbed by the disappointing finish of last year though, and is keen to prove himself again at the Brazilian circuit but this time to the finish line.
"Last year I had probably the best race of my life but with the worst ever finish," said a philosophical Checa. "I had some fun in the race but then ended up with a bad finish and no points. I did really enjoy that race though, even though it was wet, but I had a good weekend for qualifying in the dry as well.
"Our bike went pretty well there but as always maybe I could do with a bit more front feeling. Anyway we can hopefully have quite a good race there again this year. I like Rio; the place and the track, it's one of the best for us. There is talk of taking it off the MotoGP calendar but I think that would be a real shame and I would prefer to keep it."
Checa's 2003 season has been testing; his high moments have so far included a fourth place at his home Catalunya Grand Prix, another fourth in Assen, sixth in Donington and another fourth at the Czech Republic Grand Prix in Brno over a month ago. He was not so fortunate at the Portuguese Grand Prix two weeks ago, when despite putting in fast qualifying laps all weekend, some problems when braking in the early stages of the race meant the Spaniard could only ride to eighth place. He has however retained his sixth place in the championship standings, and is desperate to move up the points ladder during the remainder of the season.
"There aren't many races until the season is over," he acknowledged, "so every point will count now to decide where everyone finishes in the championship. I really would like to get at least one podium, if not more, and earn some more valuable points to finish better than sixth, which is where I finished last year. I'm going to put in every effort with my team to do so."
MELANDRI HOPES TO BETTER HIS ESTORIL FINISH AND THEN SOME
Youngster Marco Melandri's season has gone from strength to strength after a most difficult start, and it reached its peak at the Estoril race two weeks ago. Melandri had his best finish of the season so far there when he headed the Yamaha riders with seventh position. Two weeks prior to that, at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno, he scored his first top ten finish in the MotoGP class. Melandri appears to be on an upwards climb and no one deserves it more than the Ravenna-born Italian, after the season he has had.
The MotoGP rookie and 250cc World Champion missed the first two races of the year due to injury after an enormous accident at the Japanese Grand Prix in April. His recuperation was impressively speedy, however, and he secured his first MotoGP front row start at the French Grand Prix in May. Since then he has battled his way along, with some impressive race-attacking manoeuvres but a lack of consistency completing races and gaining points. However the twenty-one-year old has not rested for one moment in seeking a comfortable set-up with his Yamaha YZR-M1 machine, and all the hard work is now paying off.
Melandri shows an incredible maturity in his methodical approach to the sport, and claims to enjoy riding his M1 more and more each time he races, "At the Rio GP last year I finished fourth on the 250cc machine in the wet," explained Melandri. "I'm not too worried about whether it rains there this year because I've already had some experience riding the M1 in the wet, at Assen and a bit at Brno. I quite like the Jacarepagua track, it's quite fun because it's very smooth. There's not too much hard braking and the corners particularly are very smooth. There are some bumps but that's the same for everyone. There is the one big main straight, and we'll need a lot of power for that.
"This will be my first time at this circuit with the M1 but I'm feeling quite confident because this year I have been feeling better and better with the bike in general at each race. I still have a small amount of pain in my right arm, which started at the Portuguese Grand Prix, so I hope it's better for Rio. I won't ride my motocross bike again before then and will try to rest it as much as possible."
Although it was resurfaced just four years ago, the Jacarepagua circuit doesn't have a reputation for offering the traction one would hope for while racing a 200-plus horsepower machine. In fact a combination of many bumps, low grip levels and camberless medium to high-speed corners make this a challenging circuit to stay on, let alone race on. Despite that, the circuit has held rounds of motorcycling championships since the mid-nineties - the first Grand Prix was held there in 1995. Since there's only one extremely hard braking corner, most of the technical team's attention will be focused on manoeuvrability, but more importantly drive.
As Jacarepagua is an acceleration circuit the power characteristics will be concentrated towards the midrange and top-end, while offering a good consistent delivery rather than a progressive power curve. The latter can make it difficult to drive off the side of the tyre effectively without the rear breaking traction as the revs rise rapidly.