Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi commenced their final tests of the year today, riding the first of three days at Malaysian circuit Sepang. The pair concentrated on evaluating a range of new suspension and engine parts, some of which will be incorporated into their 2001 Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR500s.
The items tested today had first been used during practice for the 2000 season-ending Pacific and Australian GPs and thus needed more track time. Tomorrow the team will compare further new engine and suspension upgrades, designed to give more linear power delivery and improve tyre feel from the suspension. On Saturday they will move on to tyre testing.
Checa was confident enough of the improvements to clock his best-ever lap time around the circuit, smashing the track record by six tenths of a second. The Spaniard was eight tenths faster than the pace he ran during qualifying and racing at last April's Malaysian GP and one tenth better than he managed during pre-2000 season tests. "To be that quick on the first day makes me optimistic," said Checa, who finished second at Sepang in '99 and 2000. "We are testing suspension and engine parts and the bike feels more stable, with better feedback."
Biaggi worked his way steadily through the day, and has yet to work up to his full potential. "I like to work systematically through all the parts, checking and analysing, then once we've got the best combination I will go for lap times," said the Italian who rode a 2m 07.5s best. "We are definitely heading in the right direction, and I think we can make some important progress over the next two days."
Today's Sepang test marked the debut of new team director Hiroya Atsumi, who will speed communications between team and factory, strengthening the squad's technical resources in 2001. Atsumi comes to the Marlboro Yamaha Team with a wealth of experience, having worked with Yamaha stars like Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Tadahiko Taira.
"It has been a good first day for me, working together with the team," said Atsumi. "And I think we are learning a lot - Carlos worked his way through the parts very quickly and was able to set a good lap time, while Max is taking his time evaluating the parts and I think he will be fast tomorrow.
"At the moment both riders are using 2000 bikes with extra parts added, like different shocks, front suspension parts and engine parts. When we come back here at the end of January we will test the 2001 bikes for the first time, and then we can make back-to-back comparisons. The 2001 machines are not hugely different because the riders were happy with most features of the 2000 YZR500, but in addition to the engine and suspension improvements we will have new fairings, so the bikes will look quite different."
Sepang weather conditions were typically sub-tropical today, with ambient temperatures over 30 degrees and a track temperature of 48 degrees. The team enjoyed a dry track all day, despite a brief rain shower during the lunch break.
Lap times Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team): 2m 06.2s lap Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team): 2m 07.5s lap