Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa dominated this afternoon's sun-blessed French Grand Prix to give the Marlboro Yamaha Team its first-ever 500 one-two. The pair left the rest of the pack trailing as they swapped places up front, Biaggi finally ruling...
Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa dominated this afternoon's sun-blessed French Grand Prix to give the Marlboro Yamaha Team its first-ever 500 one-two. The pair left the rest of the pack trailing as they swapped places up front, Biaggi finally ruling over his team-mate to score his first win of 2001 and re-ignite his bid for the World Championship.
Perhaps even better than the crew's first double top is the fact that team personnel believe that this is much more than just a one-off. Both Biaggi and Checa tested at Mugello last week, changing direction on chassis settings and tyre choice. The new set-up worked superbly from the moment they rolled out their bikes on Friday morning and Biaggi reckons he can carry his technical advantage to the Italian GP at Mugello in two weeks time.
"My dream has come true!" beamed Marlboro Yamaha Team director Hiroya Atsumi, who joined the squad at the start of the year. "The secret to our success was last week's test session. We tried many different set-ups that have improved traction, turning and so on. Before that we could make improvements but they'd always be compromises, so we'd make the bikes better in one way but worse in another. Now we have found a much better balance so we've raised the whole level of our machines. Now I hope for the same result in Italy!"
Today's race continued this year's trend for much faster racing -- Biaggi's race time was 16 seconds quicker than last year's French GP, won by Alex Criville (Honda).
MAXIMUM MAX IS THE MAN AT LE MANS
Max Biaggi moved himself to third in the World Championship with his first victory of the year at Le Mans today, and the way the Italian ruled suggests he has found the speed to challenge for the 2001 500 crown.
The Marlboro Yamaha Team star was in stunning form all weekend, his artful riding taking him to pole position yesterday and victory and lap record today. He got a great start from pole, chased down early leader Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) to take the lead on lap five, only to relinquish it when he ran off the track at Chemin aux Boeuf two laps later. Keeping his head he worked his way back ahead of Roberts and despite another brief off-track excursion at the same place on lap 13, he pounced on Checa to take the lead on lap 16. From then on it was Mighty Max all the way.
"That was a hard race for me," said Biaggi after his 50th 500 start and his sixth 500 success. "After the bad starts I had in South Africa and Spain I got away well, so I was able to fight for victory from the start, which made me very happy. I pushed hard right away, overtook Roberts and then made a mistake. I locked the rear on a downshift and had to pick up the bike and run off the track. I was worried that I might hit someone when I got back on track. After that I tried again and made it back into the lead.
"The team's done a great job this weekend, both for me and for Carlos. The biggest help for us was our tests at Mugello. We tried another chassis configuration and it felt better right away. Now I hope to be able to challenge for victory at my home GP. It's going to be a big pressure weekend for us but I'll try my best."
CHECA SEES THE LIGHT
Carlos Checa showed he's back to his brilliant best with a strong ride to second, giving the Spanish Marlboro Yamaha Team man his first podium in almost exactly a year. Still suffering the after-effects of his big spill at Jerez two weeks ago, he put in a superb effort to lead the mid-stages of the race and, once Biaggi had moved back ahead, resist a determined charge from World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Honda).
"I had a bad start to the season but I think this shows I'm back," said Checa, who scored his last podium at last May's Italian GP. "We worked very hard this weekend and I think we're out of the bad times, we can see the light again. I think everything has changed for us and now I'm looking forward to Mugello. I think the whole team is happy now but I still want to keep improving, I know I can ride faster. Second is a good result for now. I led for a while but Max's pace was too fast for me. I tried to follow him, then my pit board told me Rossi was coming. If he came on strong I wasn't sure I could hold him but I just kept riding on the limit, keeping my focus. I never relaxed for a single lap."
Valentino today got beaten for the first time this season, coming home third after a high-pressure race. "The result wasn't so bad, I'm still leading the championship," he said. "I almost stalled my engine at the start, and then I had problems with too much wheelspin, so I couldn't get on the throttle so hard. We'll test here tomorrow so we can arrive at Mugello ready to fight for the win."
Fourth place for in-form Norick Abe maintained his second place in the championship and capped a good day overall for Yamaha. On the downside for the Japanese marque, however, Friday's fastest qualifier, Garry McCoy, missed the race having fractured his scaphoid in a fall in yesterday's free practice.
<pre> RACE CLASSIFICATION (top 10) 1. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 46'59.346 2. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team +3.266 3. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Nastro Azzurro HONDA +4.830 4. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA d'Antin +14.561 5. Alex Criville (SPA) Repsol YPF HONDA Team +14.977 6. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI +23.180 7. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons +29.597 8. Alex Barros (BRA) West HONDA Pons +31.205 9. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI +32.499 10. Jurgen vd Goorbergh (NED) Proton Team KR +33.019
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 1. Rossi 91 2. Abe 57 3. BIAGGI 54 4. Capirossi 45 5. Criville 44 6. Nakano 42 7. Roberts 37 8. Barros 35 9. CHECA 28 10. McCoy 27