Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa completed their European pre-season testing programme at a cool and windy Catalunya Circuit today. The pair ended the two-day session feeling confident that their 2001 YZR500 machines are now well dialled in for the 500cc MotoGP season that begins on 8 April at Suzuka, Japan.
Cool weather, a strong wind and overnight rain kept lap times below the outright record-breaking pace the pair have been producing during their other pre-season tests. But both riders lapped comfortably underneath Alex Barros's 1998 lap record of the 4.7km circuit in the milder conditions of yesterday. The main objective of the test was a final evaluation of new engine parts and suspension settings tried during previous outings in Malaysia, Jerez in Spain and Estoril in Portugal.
Biaggi, whose 1'46.0 best lap was less than a tenth down on the 2000 pole position time, found settings to overcome the vibration problems he had suffered during the previous tests. "I've been very satisfied with this test," said the 29-year-old Italian. "Even though the conditions weren't great we've done some good times and have a good set-up. I've had no vibration problems with the 16.5 or 17-inch tyres. "We've mostly concentrated on engine parts and suspension here. It was good to test alone as we were really able to concentrate on evaluating the work we've done up until now. Suzuka will be another important test with the main focus getting set up for the first race."
Neither rider ventured onto the track this morning as overnight rain had left it damp, but Spaniard Checa used this afternoon to try a race-distance simulation to prepare himself for the physical and mental demands of riding flat out for 45 minutes solid.
"We have done a lot of testing over the last few weeks," explained Checa, whose 2000 championship aspirations took a knock at his home Catalunya track when he slid off in wet conditions during last year's race. "We've had a very positive pre-season with good results. I am feeling more integrated than ever with the bike. We have done quite a bit on engine, tyres and suspension here but it was important to also test my physical performance. I did a full race simulation to check all the effects on my body which is quite useful for my training programme.
"Now I'm looking forward to a week off before we go to Japan. I'll keep working, of course, but I hope to have a few days in the mountains as well."
Team manager Geoff Crust shares his riders' quiet confidence after the tests. "Both riders are very happy and both are looking good," he said. "The conditions haven't been great here but we managed to achieve everything we wanted to and hopefully we'll be strong when we race here in June. There's a good feeling in the team and we're looking forward to the first race. I just hope the conditions are good in Suzuka for our test. They have been known to have snow there at this time of year!"
The team will head off to Japan for the three-day test from Monday, 19th March. Biaggi and Checa will have the opportunity to set their bikes up for the thrilling Suzuka circuit. The team will then return to Europe for a week of prior to the Suzuka race.
<pre> Max Biaggi Wed: 1'46.0 (62 laps) Thurs: 1'46.9 (48 laps) Carlos Checa Wed: 1'46.5 (75 laps) Thurs: 1'47.2 (56 laps)
Lap record: Barros (1998) 1'46.810 2000 pole position: Barros 1'45.914
</pre> - Rupert Williamson