Today's Rio Grand Prix proved to be one of the most difficult rounds of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship for the Fortuna Yamaha team, with both factory Yamaha riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri struggling to finish with a top ten result. Despite all efforts made little could be done to overcome the difficulties faced by Checa and Melandri on the slick and bumpy Nelson Piquet circuit during yesterday's qualifying, and the pair finished tenth and 11th respectively.
Starting from tenth on the grid for today's 24-lap race, Checa was hopeful of a good start but in the end was unable to make an inroad on the opening few laps. Valentino Rossi (Honda), Sete Gibernau (Honda) and Makoto Tamada (Honda) claimed the final podium placings, finishing in that order. As the race progressed, tenth-placed Checa remained focused and determined. The approach paid dividends, as Checa pounced on Troy Bayliss (Ducati) when the opportunity presented itself on the penultimate lap. The Fortuna Yamaha Spaniard secured ninth place, just 0.283 seconds behind Shinya Nakano (d' Antin Yamaha Team).
"Obviously we didn't do as well as we had hoped this weekend but we did make gradual improvements during the three days," said Checa, who today made his 120th start in the premier motorcycle class. "My main problem all weekend was balance and the set-up of the chassis. I stuck behind the Ducati of Bayliss and at the end I increased my pace and was able to pass him. But I still need to be able to do more regarding turning the bike, and that's one of my main problems. I really want to improve this handling issue as soon as I can. I'm going back to Europe now for a bit of relaxation before I head to Japan for the next round."
For Checa's Fortuna Yamaha team-mate Melandri, race day did offer some progress and the 21-year-old Italian produced a reasonable race to eventually finish the Rio Grand Prix 11th - a five place improvement over his final qualifying result.
"I'm reasonably happy about today, considering," said Melandri, who has had a frustrating weekend. "I started the race quite badly and after a few laps I lost grip on the rear. It's strange because normally that happens when I' m on the power, but this time it happened in the middle of the corners. The feeling of the bike was much better than yesterday in general. After seven or eight laps I lost grip on the front, and then on the last five or six laps I was taking too many risks and I lost my confidence. By the end I had lost a lot of time and my lap times were slow."
"It's been a really difficult weekend because of the lack of grip that our bikes have suffered at this track," said Davide Brivio, director of the Fortuna Yamaha Team. "We were in more trouble here than a lot of others, and we tried everything to change the settings and to make the riders more comfortable. At the beginning of the race both Checa and Melandri were able to keep up similar lap times to the lead riders, but in the second half of the race we suffered. Carlos did very well to keep going and to overtake Bayliss. Both our riders did the best that they could."
<pre> RESULTS 1. Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol HONDA 44'36.633 2. Sete Gibernau SPA Telefonica Movistar HONDA +3.109 3. Makoto Tamada JPN Pramac HONDA +7.298 4. Max Biaggi ITA Camel Pramac Pons HONDA +9.235 5. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol HONDA +11.165 6. Loris Capirossi ITA DUCATI Marlboro Team +14.826 7. Tohru Ukawa JPN Camel Pramac Pons HONDA +17.361 8. Shinya Nakano JPN d'Antin YAMAHA Team +21.239 9. CARLOS CHECA SPA Fortuna YAMAHA Team +21.522 10. Troy Bayliss AUS DUCATI Marlboro Team +22.971 11. MARCO MELANDRI ITA Fortuna YAMAHA Team +32.910
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 1. Valentino Rossi 262 2. Sete Gibernau 211 3. Max Biaggi 174 4. Loris Capirossi 123 5. Troy Bayliss 112 6. Tohru Ukawa 94 7. CARLOS CHECA 93 8. Nicky Hayden 85 9. Alex Barros 80 10. Shinya Nakano 77
15. MARCO MELANDRI 29