Yamaha's challenger getting ready for another big season
Having participated in two successful winter tests in Qatar and Australia the Yamaha Motor Italia World Superbike Team is already in a high state of readiness to meet the challenge of the forthcoming World Superbike Championship season.
Noriyuki Haga and Troy Corser (both Yamaha Motor Italia (YMIT) WSB Team) continue their riding partnership for a second year, after taking a total of 24 podiums between them last season. Japanese superstar Haga came within a meagre two points of winning the riders' championship outright on '07, ending the campaign with six victories to his credit.
In the Qatar test last November both Haga and Corser made immediate improvements even compared to the strong results obtained by their 2007-spec Yamaha YZF-R1 machines, and carried on their good work in the subsequent test last month, at Phillip Island. These venues are the first two on the WSB calendar, the 5.380km circuit of Losail again enjoying its now traditional status as the season opener, on Saturday 23rd February; one week ahead of the Australian round, on Sunday March 2.
In the Qatar test Corser was particularly fast from the outset, with Haga matching him on the final day, while the changing conditions of the Phillip Island tests provided more of a challenge to both riders and technical staff. Everyone in the highly respected YMIT WSB squad worked hard to make final adjustments to the 2008-spec Yamaha YZF-R1 and help the championship's single make tyre supplier with feedback on their latest development tyres.
Yamaha Motor Italia's YZF-R1 Superbike, a new model in 2007, was the tool with which Haga and Corser helped earn Yamaha the Manufacturers' Championship, and the 2008 version has undergone a comprehensive programme of development over the winter months. The race machine now runs Yamaha's revolutionary YCC-I variable intake system, as fitted to the original road bike. Even in early trials this unique Yamaha innovation showed its potential, and in testing has provided smoother and more torquey engine response in the midrange, reduces the massively powerful R1's desire to wheelie in the lower gears and yet still maintains its class-leading top end performance.
Due to recent changes in the WSB technical rules four-cylinder machines can now run at a minimum weight of 162kg, and the R1 has lost mass due to a new swing arm design, lighter Akrapovic exhausts, a carbon airbox and even a new lightweight wiring loom to meet that new lower limit exactly. The latest rear swing arm is a step closer to the state of perfection that demands more feel with less unsprung weight; more ultimate performance with longer tyre life. The latest generation of Ohlins suspension units also make a significant contribution to the weight loss programme, and have already shown measurable improvements during the track tests.
The look and graphics of the 2008 machines are based on the 2007 versions, while a new logo joins existing sponsors Santander, Sika, Akrapovic and Fabbri on the flanks of the R1. FIMER, a welding machine company that has long links to Yamaha Motor Italia (even taking over the premises once used by the Yamaha importer in its early years) has now signed a three-year deal to support the efforts of the official YMIT team in WSB.
The 15-round 2008 season is set to be a stiff challenge for all comers, with four long haul races instead of two, Qatar; Australia; USA and Indonesia, and four individual venues which are either new to World Superbike entirely or have been missing from the calendar for a decade or so.
Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia WSB Team)
"We will have 30 individual races this year and many good riders have now entered the World Superbike series, including six Japanese! I'm looking forward to a good battle with all of them. I think World Superbike will be more exciting than MotoGP this year, so people should come along to their local race to see the close battles. I feel that the performance of all the riders and teams will improve a great deal so the biggest threat is difficult to see right now. We must see more of the competition first. Suzuki and Ducati were strong at the Philip Island tests, but we have not seen the new Honda. We'll have to wait for that. Our YCC-I variable intake system will improve acceleration and make the engine performance more useable everywhere. It worked very well at the Phillip Island tests. Our whole machine is very competitive, but like always in racing, we are still seeking points to improve. We are determined to continue the improvements on the 2008 R1 all year, starting from this moment."
Troy Corser (Yamaha Motor Italia WSB Team)
"Our test in Qatar was particularly good and we also worked through a lot of new things in Phillip Island. The engine on the machine is definitely stronger and lots of other aspects are improved now, especially the electronics. We weren't that concerned about absolute lap times at the Phillip Island test, we just wanted to get lots of time on the bike to try out all the equipment that we had to test there. For me that test wasto make sure we started the season with the best equipment and information we could get, and to get us all working well together once again. The new suspension is definitely an improvement; it's just a case of spending more time with it now, and we will have that chance in the two-day test at Qatar soon. Same with the YCC-I system, which we felt a difference with straight away. I know Yamaha has been working hard over the winter and after the last couple of days of testing, we will really be ready to go. I think it's going to be a tough championship but I haven't been looking at the other riders too much at this stage."
Massimo Meregalli - Team Coordinator, Yamaha Motor Italia WSB Team - has been impressed by both his men and his machines already, and knows that the team should start the season in great shape.
"We had a very good test at Qatar and although we found some more work to do in Australia we were still satisfied with our progress on the bike. It was a big improvement in Qatar, and in Australia we went faster than we did last year - faster than we had ever gone.
"Overall, we expect to have some small advantage over the manufacturers who will arrive in 2008 with new machines, and we will see what the real potential of the new 1200cc twins are in races, not testing. The main thing is that we know our bike is already better than the way it finished the season with a double win in Magny Cours last year, thanks to many areas of development. One is reduced weight and we will start on the weight limit of 162kg. Another example is the new rear swing arm that has proven to give both the guys a more positive feeling on the track.
Right now we are ready to race, very focused on our main goal, and everyone knows what this is. We have two absolute top riders and in my opinion we have the very best rider combination. Nori and Troy have a lot of experience, and have a strong motivation to reach the goal. We have never seen Noriyuki so willing to do extra work in testing. He was doing more than one long run per day and that is a great sign."