Round twelve: Portuguese Grand Prix Estoril, September 1/2/3 2000 Grand Prix racing takes a step into the unknown at Estoril this weekend, the only "new" circuit on the 2000 World Championship calendar. The Portuguese GP therefore presents a ...
Round twelve: Portuguese Grand Prix
Estoril, September 1/2/3 2000
Grand Prix racing takes a step into the unknown at Estoril this weekend, the only "new" circuit on the 2000 World Championship calendar. The Portuguese GP therefore presents a particular challenge to riders and teams, especially the four main 500 title protagonists - Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin), Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin).
Following the recent Czech GP, where Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) took his first win of the year, Roberts enjoys a bigger-than-ever points lead. But the American is coming under pressure from Rossi, who moved into second overall with another fine ride to second.
Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix is the penultimate European event. In two weeks time the GP circus reassembles in Valencia before heading off for the year's final three GPs in Brazil, Japan and Australia.
The riders and the track
Portugal hosts its first-ever bike GP on home tarmac this weekend, more than a decade after the first two Portuguese GPs were held in Spain, at Jarama in 1987 and Jerez in 1988. Estoril was unavailable in those days because it didn't match up to homologation requirements, but recent improvements have solved that problem.
Most riders and teams made their first acquaintance with the circuit during an IRTA-organised test session in late February. Kenny Roberts ended the three-day outing fastest, a fraction of a second ahead of Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi and Carlos Checa.
Robert's performance was one of many pre-season indications of his strength and the American has fulfilled that promise, leading the World Championship ever since April's Japanese GP. Already a winner of three GPs this season, Roberts comes to Estoril determined to score another victory and extend his lead over ever-improving 500 rookie Valentino Rossi. "We were fastest last time down there but that doesn't mean much now because pretty much everyone should have different combinations and set-ups now," he says. "We've got a better combination than we had back then, but so will most people, I guess."
"It seems like a fun track too. There's a few fast turns that will test people but mostly it's pretty tight, with a few up-and-down corners. There's a combination of a lot of different types of corners and situations. It should provide good racing, but you never really know until you get a bunch of 500s together."
Roberts believes Estoril won't be a punishing track tyre-wise. "There's a few quick rights but mostly there's a lot of lefts and rights, so it shouldn't be too bad on tyres. It's not one of those tracks where one side of the tyre gets heated up because you're always turning the same way, like Sachsenring."
The series leader's main concern, and this seems to be a worry for many teams, is the dirty surface.
"It looks like it's dirty, even when it's not," he adds. "It had not so bad grip when we were there in February but it was pretty cold then and we don't know what it'll be like when it's hot, as it should be this time around."
Michelin's solution to the challenge of Estoril
Michelin aims to continue its unbeaten 500 record at Estoril this weekend. The French tyre brand has won every one of the 11 races so far this year and has suffered just one defeat in the last 73 World Championship events. Not surprisingly, Michelin tyres now monopolise the 500 grid. Two teams - the Blu Aprilia Team and Proton Team KR Modenas - started the year with rival tyre brands but both have now made the switch to Michelin. The Modenas outfit made the move following promising tests at Brno, after the Czech GP. Aprilia made the change for May's French GP and scored its first podium result of the year at the following Italian GP.
At Brno Dutch privateer Jurgen van den Goorbergh tested the Modenas on Michelin slicks and astounded everyone with his speed. This weekend the bike will be raced by Australian Mark Willis.
"We were very impressed with Jurgen," says Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "He tested the Modenas and did a 2m 03.1s, running well-used Michelin race tyres. That was over a second faster than Luca Cadalora had managed during qualifying, using a different tyre brand. I think that says a lot."
Like his 500 class partners, Jacques Morelli knows that Estoril represents a special challenge, since riders and teams have a minimum of track data. Every other circuit on this year's calendar has been used for GP racing before, so teams have the data they need to help them solve problems at those venues. At Estoril they will be mostly working in the dark, aiming to amass enough data to achieve the best-possible set-up for Sunday's race.
"Basically, it's a new track for everyone and that always make life more difficult," says Jacques Morelli.
"At most tracks we go to, we have so much data and that is a big help if you're trying to solve a problem for a rider. We don't have all that information to hand from Estoril. A lot of the teams did test there in February but we expect conditions to be different. It was pretty cool then and temperatures should be much higher on this visit, though some of the data we gained then will definitely be of use this weekend."
"Conditions could be tricky - the track is close to the Atlantic, so we may have to deal with high humidity and wind. The track is also bumpy, so I expect we'll have to work with a few of our riders to cure some chatter."
"As always, we are chasing a compromise. You need a strong-construction tyre because there's a few fast corners but something different for the really slow chicane. It's difficult to find the perfect compromise but that's what we're here to do."
"It could be a good track for the twins. The start-finish straight is long but the rest of the track is twisty, and a lot of the corners lead into one another, so the V4s can't use their superior power to such affect."
Estoril tyre information
Michelin transports approximately 2400 tyres to Estoril this weekend - 1800 slicks and 600 rain/intermediate tyres. A total of 17 Michelin staff looks after the needs of riders - six technicians, nine fitters, one manager and a co-ordinator. And Michelin has five juggernauts at the track - four tyre transporters and one office/fitting equipment truck. <pre>
Lap record First Grand Prix at track, lap record to be established
Fastest pre-season lap: Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) in 1m 41.15s
1 - Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) 174 points 2 - Valentino Rossi (Honda-Michelin) 132 points 3 - Carlos Checa (Yamaha-Michelin) 128 points 4 - Loris Capirossi (Honda-Michelin) 123 points 5 - Norick Abe (Yamaha-Michelin) 106 points 6 - Alex Barros (Honda-Michelin) 104 points 7 - Alex Crivillé (Honda-Michelin) 97 points 8 - Max Biaggi (Yamaha-Michelin) 89 points 9 - Nobuatsu Aoki (Suzuki-Michelin) 86 points 10 - Garry McCoy (Yamaha-Michelin) 84 points 11 - Tadayuki Okada (Honda-Michelin) 71 points 12 - Régis Laconi (Yamaha-Michelin) 67 points 13 - Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia-Michelin) 61 points 14 - Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh (Honda-Michelin) 60 points 15 - Sete Gibernau (Honda-Michelin) 51 points 16 - Tetsuya Harada (Aprilia-Michelin) 28 points
N° Rider Team 1 Alex Crivillé Repsol YPF Honda Team 2 Kenny Roberts Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 4 Max Biaggi Marlboro Yamaha Team 5 Sete Gibernau Repsol YPF Honda Team 6 Norifumi Abe Antena 3 Yamaha - D'Antin 7 Carlos Checa Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Tadayuki Okada Repsol YPF Honda Team 9 Nobuatsu Aoki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 10 Alex Barros Emerson Honda Pons 12 Shane Norval Sabre Sport 15 Yoshiteru Konishi Technical Sport Racing 17 Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh Rizla Honda 18 Sébastien Legrelle Tecmas Honda Elf 24 Garry McCoy Red Bull Yamaha WCM 25 José Luis Cardoso Maxon Dee Cee Jeans 31 Tetsuya Harada Blu Aprilia Team 43 Paolo Tessari Team Paton * 46 Valentino Rossi Nastro Azzurro Honda 55 Régis Laconi Red Bull Yamaha WCM 65 Loris Capirossi Emerson Honda Pons 99 Jeremy McWilliams Blu Aprilia Team
* On few european races