Fortuna Yamaha riders Carlos Checa and Norick Abe rode a steady final qualifying session this afternoon to keep their respective fifth and eleventh positions on the starting grid for tomorrow's Valencia Grand Prix. The Spanish round marks the last of the sixteen races that have formed the 2003 MotoGP World Championship. Both Checa and Abe, the latter this weekend replacing injured Fortuna Yamaha regular Marco Melandri, improved on yesterday's lap times in significantly better weather conditions than yesterday.
Checa entered the usual last minute battle for the top grid spots and improved his time to a fastest lap of 1'33.454. In almost a repeat performance of yesterday, Checa looked set to secure a front row start but was knocked to the front of the second row in the closing minutes of the session by Honda rider Nicky Hayden. Checa used his morning practice session to test Yamaha's latest evolution of the M1's Deltabox chassis, as well as setting some times aboard his current spec bike. This afternoon the Spaniard opted for the latest spec, having found it gave him an overall better feeling, and will continue to use it for tomorrow's practice session and 30-lap race.
"The new chassis gave me a much better feeling this morning, and this afternoon it felt a bit better," explained Checa. "We still need a little time to set the chassis up for the race, and so tomorrow morning we will have the chance to test it further in the warm up. The main benefit I have felt today from the latest chassis is that I can keep the front on the ground more and control the rear when the bike is on its side. We've made one step in its set-up, and now we need to make another to be ready. I think the race will be a very demanding 30 laps, and it will be very tough on tyres."
Checa's temporary team-mate Norick Abe, who the Fortuna Yamaha Team has drafted in to replace Marco Melandri, also improved on yesterday's time, setting a fastest lap of 1'34.467. Melandri is still recovering from a shoulder operation he underwent earlier in the week. Abe also tested the new M1 chassis today, and having found immediate benefits from it this morning, continued working on set-up this afternoon.
"I compared the current and the new chassis this morning and finally decided to use the new one because it gave me better feedback," explained Japanese Abe. "I also used a slightly different engine spec, which we set up with the new chassis. Towards the end of this afternoon's session it finally felt good and that is the package I used to improve my time. It was the same position as yesterday, and I'm a little disappointed as I wanted to improve. Anyway I hope to make a good start tomorrow. I normally get away quickly and I hope to be able to fight with the top riders."
Team Director Davide Brivio said, "We're pleased that both riders have been able to test the new chassis today. The initial feedback from both is positive, and they will both use the new development again tomorrow. Carlos is quite confident and has set some consistent times, and Norick is also doing a good job. We hope both riders will have a good race tomorrow and then preparation for next year will begin almost immediately with a two-day test to further work on the new chassis."
MotoGP's 2003 World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda) took pole position as well as breaking the circuit record with a time of 1'32.478, followed by Spaniard Sete Gibernau (Honda) who also improved on his provisional time, with 1'33.148. Ducati's Loris Capirossi and Honda rider Nicky Hayden complete the front row.
PROVISIONAL FRONT ROW
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'32.478
2. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Telefonica Movistar HONDA 1'33.148
3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'33.275
4. Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol HONDA 1'33.348
5. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'33.454
11. NORICK ABE (JPN) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'34.467