Fortuna Yamaha Team and Gauloises Yamaha Team launch 2003 campaign in spanish style.

The Fortuna Yamaha and Gauloises Yamaha teams marked the formal beginning of their 2003 MotoGP campaigns with a presentation and dinner attended by 200 media and VIP guests last night. The event took place at an amazing indoor bullring at the Finca Fuente Rey near to Jerez in Andalucia, Spain and featured the region's famous "dancing" horses. The event also marked the start of the new partnership between Yamaha and Altadis, owner of the Fortuna and Gauloises brands.

The presentation saw speeches from Yamaha Motor Racing B.V. managing director Lin Jarvis and co-presidents of Altadis Pablo Isla and Jean-Dominique Comolli. The microphone then fell to team principals Davide Brivio and Hervé Poncharal.

Finally it was the turn of the four riders to come on stage and reveal the new designs of their YZR-M1 machines - Spaniard Carlos Checa and Italian Marco Melandri in the silver and red of Fortuna Yamaha and Brazilian Alex Barros with Frenchman Olivier Jacque in Gauloises Yamaha blue.

"I will never forget going onto the straight for the first time when I first rode the bike," recalled 20-year-old 250cc World Champion Melandri. "When I opened the throttle I imagined it would be about twice as powerful as the 250, but I just couldn't believe it. It was at least three times as much. I have had some more time on the bike and it's getting better each time I ride it, but I'm looking forward to the next tests to give me a real idea before the first race in Suzuka in April."

For Melandri's experienced team-mate Checa it is a return to the colours of Spain's number one cigarette brand Fortuna. "Fortuna was my first big sponsor when I won the Spanish 250 Championship and moved into the World Championship," explained the affable Spaniard who keeps his well-known bull-shaped number seven this year despite finishing fifth in the 2002 title-race. "They were also my sponsor when I won my first GP which was, of course, very special.

"Everything is going very well with our preparations for the new season so far, apart from some poor weather last time we were in Jerez. I have full confidence in this project and in Yamaha and all the people behind me. I believe we can do great things, and why not from the first race? We've worked hard all winter and everything is open now so we'll just have to wait and see what Suzuka brings."

The team is taking part in the three-day official IRTA test in Jerez until Sunday and will then move to Estoril in Portugal for a further two days testing before the last European IRTA test in Barcelona on 15/16 March. The final outing before the 2003 season gets under way will be a two-day test in Suzuka prior to the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday 6th April.

-fyt-