MARLBORO YAMAHA MEN TAKE ON THE CATALUNYA CHALLENGE

Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi had a busy first day at sun-drenched Catalunya, working at perfecting their set-up for this complex racetrack and placing eighth and 13th. The Barcelona circuit hasn't been kind to Yamaha in the recent past, though both men went well here during pre-season testing in early March. Biaggi clocked a 1m 46.0s best during those tests and is currently 1.2 seconds off that pace. An increase in track temperature - from 28 degrees in March to 44 degrees this afternoon - is the most likely cause for the Italian's slower pace and his crew are working to make sure he's back on it tomorrow. Checa is currently just 0.2 seconds off his winter lap times and confident of going faster over the rest of the weekend.

"Both guys have been having problems with chatter," explained Marlboro Yamaha Team manager Geoff Crust. "Carlos improved his bike over the day, he' s taking his time to find a balance that dials out the chatter before he starts to push hard. He doesn't want to make any mistakes. Max had chatter this morning and this afternoon the bike wasn't turning the way he likes it to turn. We'll examine all the data and decide which way to go for tomorrow, but we need to do something because he was doing 46s flat when we tested here in early March."

CHECA ON SECOND ROW

Carlos Checa was eighth fastest in this afternoon's opening qualifier, giving himself a provisional slot on the second row of the grid. The local star, born in nearby Sant Fruitos, spent much of today concentrating on ironing out chatter - a high-speed vibration at the tyre's contact patch - so he can get close to the front during tomorrow's final qualifier and Sunday's all-important race.

"So far our only real concern is the rear end," said the Marlboro Yamaha Team man. "It's chattering through the turns, so I can't keep my rolling speed. I'm having to shorten the turns and get on the throttle later. It's frustrating but we've improved the bike through today and I'm confident we can make things even better for tomorrow. This isn't the best track for Yamaha, but Abe is second so far which suggests that we aren't getting the full potential from our bikes."

BIAGGI SEARCHES FOR A SET-UP

Marlboro Yamaha Team ace Max Biaggi struggled to get anywhere near the lap times he recorded here during pre-season testing, ending today's first qualifying session a very uncharacteristic 13th quickest. Currently second overall in the points chase and closing on series leader Valentino Rossi (Honda), who crashed this afternoon, Biaggi needs a good result here to continue his championship charge.

"It's very strange, I did much faster times in March with real ease," said Biaggi. "It's annoying because we worked really hard during those tests, we did good lap times and the bike felt good. Now it's not working well and I can't put my finger on any one problem. We started the day with our settings from the test and this afternoon we switched to the set-up we used at Mugello. Neither are working, so Fiorenzo (Fanali, his crew chief) and I will sit down this evening and work out what to do for tomorrow."

CAPIROSSI ON PROVISIONAL POLE

Second at Mugello two weeks ago, Loris Capirossi (Honda) took provisional pole at Catalunya today, out-pacing team-mate Alex Barros and Norick Abe (Yamaha). Abe put on a strong end-of-session charge to split the Honda pair, leaving Mugello winner Barros in third.

"I'm happy with the set-up," said Capirossi. "We tested at Valencia after Mugello and did a lot of good work there, especially on our front suspension set-up. We've also got some new engine parts from Honda for this race, the bike seems to be going very well. This could be a good weekend for us."

ABE SECOND AS ROSSI CRASHES

On-form Norick Abe (Yamaha) ended day one half a second down on Capirossi. The Japanese, who has twice tested here this year, was just nine hundredths ahead of Barros. "My team is Spanish, so this is almost like a home GP to me," he said. "I feel I'm riding better than ever this year, I'm faster than before at every circuit. We tested here after the Jerez GP but the track conditions were bad, we learned most when we came here in February, when I did a 46.2."

<pre> FIRST QUALIFYING 1. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons 1'45.587 2. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA d'Antin 1'46.127 3. Alex Barros (BRA) West HONDA Pons 1'46.217 4. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA 1'46.264

8. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'46.760 13. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'47.270

-MYT