The Marlboro Yamaha Team is back to full strength for this weekend’s Spanish GP, Carlos Checa rejoining team-mate Max Biaggi after missing the South African GP through injury. The pair, who were super quick during February’s group pre-season tests here, ended the first day of qualifying fifth and 12th and are confident of better to come during tomorrow’s all-important final session.
“I expect times to come down again tomorrow, to the kind of pace everyone was running back in February,” said team manager Geoff Crust. “Max has been working his way though all the tyres and doing a little bit of work on bike balance. We don’t want to play around with things too much, because we expect the track to get better tomorrow, more like it was during pre-season tests, and we know we’ve got the right set-up for those conditions. Max had a minor fall at turn four this morning. He hit a bump, that unloaded the front and down he went. Carlos is getting back into the swing of things after a month off the bike. He’s been losing time through a few parts of the track, so we need to take a look at what we can do to fix that for Saturday.”
BIAGGI A FRACTION OFF THE FRONT ROW
Max Biaggi ended today’s opening qualifier in fifth spot, just seven hundredths of a second off the provisional front row. The Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR500 rider came back from a minor tumble in this morning’s session to run some good, consistent times in preparation for Sunday’s race, round three of this year’s 500 World Championship.
“I actually came in on my fastest lap near the end of the session,” he revealed. “My first three splits on that lap put me just a tenth down on Rossi but the bike wasn’t quite right so I wanted to come in and change settings. We tried something new with set-up today but it wasn’t the right direction for this racetrack, so for tomorrow we’ll go back to what worked at the tests. We know what to change, we just didn’t have time during the session and I’m sure I can improve a lot once we’ve made the switch.”
This morning Biaggi tested a high-tech Dainese leather suit, fitted with 64 sensors that monitor various body functions like heart rate as well as temperature and humidity within the suit.
CHECA BACK IN ACTION
Carlos Checa was back on board his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR500s for the first time in a month today, steadily working himself back up to speed and ending the afternoon 12th quickest. The Spanish star suffered an injured kidney when he crashed his Supermotard bike during a training run a week before the South African GP and was in hospital for a week. “I feel fine, but I need to get my feeling back,” said Checa, who was seventh in this morning’s ‘free’ session. “I took a step backwards when I crashed my Supermotard bike and now I need to recover, it’s only normal that it takes a while to get back up to speed. The bike isn’t bad but I’m getting an unstable feeling from the front through some of the braking areas and that’s stopping me rolling into the corners with good speed. We worked at the problem this morning but I couldn’t push as hard as I wanted to at the end of this afternoon’s session so we’ve got some work to do on that.”
ROSSI LEADS THE WAY
World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Honda) dominated today’s opening qualifying session, steadily upping his pace in the closing stages to end up 0.718 seconds ahead of his closest challenger. “I’m very happy,” said the Italian, winner of the opening two races of 2001. “I managed a 43.5 before I even switched to soft tyres at the end of the session, that made me four tenths faster than anyone with a normal race rear.”
ABE AND NAKANO GIVE CHASE
Yamaha riders Norick Abe and Shinya Nakano were the closest men to Rossi, 0.718 seconds off provisional pole and less than two hundredths apart. In fact the next nine riders behind Rossi are separated by just 0.4 seconds. “I ’m feeling really good on the bike,” said Abe, who once had a reputation as a slow qualifier but has reinvented himself this season. “500s are so close now that qualifying is very important – you need a good grid position, that’ s why I’m trying so hard.”
FIRST QUALIFYING 1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA 1'43.113 2. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA-D'Antin 1'43.831 3. Shinya Nakano (JPN) Gauloises YAMAHA Tech 3 1'43.848 4. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons 1'43.894 5. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'43.971
12. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'44.072