The first day of the Rio Grand Prix proved more than challenging for Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Marco Melandri and Carlos Checa as they struggled with set-up difficulties in today's qualifying session. Both riders endeavoured to find a suitable...
The first day of the Rio Grand Prix proved more than challenging for Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Marco Melandri and Carlos Checa as they struggled with set-up difficulties in today's qualifying session. Both riders endeavoured to find a suitable base set-up for the slick and bumpy Nelson Piquet circuit and focused on feeling rather than lap times, finishing this afternoon's session 15th and 16th fastest respectively. Although weather conditions gradually improved throughout the day after a damp morning, the dry but gloomy afternoon qualifying session didn't offer any relief for Yamaha's Factory squad, who moved to Brazil from the European continent earlier this week with the rest of the MotoGP paddock.
Camel Pramac Honda Pons rider Max Biaggi led the rider board today with a lap time of 1'49.876, breaking his own circuit best lap record of 1'50.568 which gave him pole position here last year. Biaggi was closely followed by riders Loris Capirossi (1'50.212), Sete Gibernau (1'50.234) and Valentino Rossi (1'50.322), completing the provisional front row for Sunday's race. The Rio Grand Prix marks the first of four intercontinental 'flyaway' races, followed by rounds in Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
After initially producing the 12th fastest time in this morning's practice, Melandri showed some promise of improvement during this afternoon's hour-long qualifying session. However he eventually finished 15th, with a best lap time of 1'52.099. Although the 250cc World Champion was able to show flashes of speed on his YZR-M1, instability over the bumpy tarmac hindered his feeling and consistency and, in turn, a competitive lap. Stability will be the target of Melandri's crew and engineers this evening when they will work to put the 21-year-old back in the hunt for another front row start.
"That was a really difficult day, and I'm quite disillusioned because I thought I could start from a comfortable set-up straight away," said Melandri, who has started from the front row of the grid twice this season. "Instead I feel quite a long way behind the top riders and I can't get a good feeling. It's hard to know which tyres to use here, so we have to work hard to sort out these problems. I tried using softer tyres towards the end of the session but it didn't make that much of a difference and I couldn't even try for a fast lap. I really hope tomorrow will be better."
Today's qualifying session was equally disappointing for team-mate Carlos Checa, who produced one of his most determined rides in last year's Rio Grand Prix. The Spaniard was unable to match his morning practice performance of seventh fastest, despite improving his lap time significantly. Checa sits in 16th place on the provisional starting grid with a time of 1'52.266.
"We have probably tested too many things today," said a frustrated Checa, "and I couldn't find the right way to go with the bike. We altered more than the suspension; we altered both the chassis and the engine set-up. I started this morning with my base set-up from Estoril, but the balance didn' t feel right and I didn't have the confidence to push at all, so we have changed many things. We have lost one day doing this. For tomorrow we will go back to the base set-up. I hope that we can make up for lost time and that the weather stays dry so I can get a better lap time and grid position."
Team Director Davide Brivio said, "We have some serious work to do tonight! Both riders had difficulties finding the right direction for setting. We need to check all the information from today and sit the riders down with the engineers to discuss every possibility. For sure we can improve tomorrow. Both riders were so busy changing their set-ups that, for different reasons, they were unable to try for a hot lap. We need the weather to hold out for tomorrow so they can move up the starting grid."