Africa's Grand Prix Welkom, South Africa April 16/17/18 2004 Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team Opens A New Chapter After the re-introduction of four-stroke machinery to MotoGP racing in 2002 the public interest and levels of factory participation...
Africa's Grand Prix
Welkom, South Africa
April 16/17/18 2004
Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team Opens A New Chapter
After the re-introduction of four-stroke machinery to MotoGP racing in 2002 the public interest and levels of factory participation in the premier motorcycle racing class have grown to all-time record levels, a fact the recently restructured Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team and its riders Valentino Ross and Carlos Checa have played a solid part in achieving. On the eve of the 2004 World Championship season, which starts in South Africa on 18 April, a glittering array of talent lines up to do battle after an exhausting off-season of testing and machine development.
For the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team, 2004 heralds a new stage in the development of Yamaha's factory squad, after a series of encouraging winter tests. In pre-season 2003 the Team confined its testing operations to Europe, but so far in 2004 the squad has completed two tests in Malaysia, two in Australia and most recently two in Spain. This gruelling programme has given Yamaha newcomer Valentino Rossi, his team-mate Carlos Checa and the Yamaha engineers and crews ample opportunity to get to know the newest version of the Yamaha YZR-M1.
The newly-named Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team was officially unveiled to the world in an extravagant flurry of publicity, with a special display of the bikes, livery and riding skill prior to the recent IRTA tests in Barcelona. Rossi and Checa pulled wheelies and performed stoppies and burnouts for an appreciative crowd under the shadow of Montjuic Castle in Barcelona, during an event that was beamed worldwide on television.
The Factory Team's intimate knowledge of the YZR-M1's ever expanding capabilities, allied to the prowess of five times World Champion Rossi and proven top level race winner Checa has delivered some impressive results in pre-season and Rossi has topped the test time sheets in the two most recent Barcelona and Jerez IRTA sessions. The 25-year-old set the fastest lap of all in the special timed session at the Barcelona test, scooping his and Yamaha's first prize of their new association -- a BMW car. The IRTA tests are always a significant moment, taking place right before the race season begins. Virtually every team and rider attends, vying for that last fragment of psychological advantage to take into the first race of the season. The good performance of both Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha riders at these tests is a vindication of the development work carried out by Yamaha, under the supervision of Yamaha's MotoGP Technical Director Masao Furusawa.
The arrival to the Yamaha Factory Team of Rossi, 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and double MotoGP World Champion, along with his experienced pit crew headed up by Jerry Burgess, has brought an added impetus to Yamaha's MotoGP efforts, and the long-running development programme of the M1 has gone from strength to strength in the last few months. Checa, the 31-year-old Spaniard, is twice a race winner in the premier class and has also played a strong role in the team's resurgence. He demonstrated his personal progress recently at the Jerez IRTA tests, where he took his M1 to fourth best time overall. The competition in MotoGP has never been stronger but the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team is looking forward to a competitive season as it moves to Welkom for the betandwin.com Africa's Grand Prix.
ROSSI RELISHES NEW 2004 CHALLENGE
Since signing for Yamaha, reigning World Champion Rossi has enjoyed some memorable moments, on track and off. Alongside Checa he was a guest at the recent Australian F1 round, where he found a myriad of fans on both sides of the pit wall. Rossi, as big a star in Japan as anywhere, was also the guest of Yamaha at a Tokyo press conference, when he was officially presented to the local media.
After the final, very wet, session at the recent Jerez IRTA tests the Italian said: "There's not very much to say because of the bad weather, except that I'm pleased with the way the bike has gone in the wet. It is still not bad to ride and the tyres felt okay too. Anyway this is the end of the winter tests and I'm very happy with our progress.
"I completely feel I am a Yamaha rider now. In fact I felt this even by our second day together in Sepang in January! It's great, we are working together to improve the bike and to get to the top together. Certainly every test so far has been really important for us because we started from the beginning with this bike and are all working to the same goal.
"When I spoke with Yamaha in the beginning I got a great feeling from them because they wanted me so much to come and join them to go for victory. My work with Honda was finished so now with Yamaha we are trying to make another dream, to make a fresh start and to come back to the top. This is so good for motivation and to keep that motivation at 100 per cent."
When asked of his hopes for first race he stated: "It's difficult to say, we hope to improve a bit from now, and to arrive at the first race ready to fight for the podium. That is our target, it might not be easy but we will try."
CHECA LOOKING FOR RESURGENT FORM TO CONTINUE
It's been a busy winter for Carlos Checa. Having put in sterling work at the Phillip Island test sessions Carlos also put in an appearance at the Yamaha World press test of the new R1 at the Eastern Creek circuit near Sydney, before coming back to Europe via California, where he dropped in to visit old friend and Yamaha legend Wayne Rainey.
Always a force to be reckoned with when all things are equal, Checa is enthused beyond measure at the prospect of the new season, and feels Welkom will be good to him.
"Welkom is a circuit I like quite a lot," said the London resident. "It feels like we are going to our first race this year at just the right moment in our development. Anything can happen but for sure it's going to be really tough this year because everyone is at such a high level. It's really not easy to predict who could win the first race. The new rule change to have three guys per row on the starting grid will make things very tricky, but exciting."
In relation to some previous seasons, Checa thinks he and his machinery are in perfect shape to challenge. "I feel completely different in my approach to the championship this year compared to last year. At the start of 2003 we had some problems with the bike and it did not evolve as much as I would have liked during the winter. I didn't really feel ready to start racing at the Suzuka GP and it was the same at Welkom last year, when I had problems with rear grip and stability, and just could not break through the pack to fight with the top guys. By the time of Jerez we had made significantly good progress with the bike but unfortunately I had some unlucky problems with the engine in the race there.
"We have made great progress with the M1 since then and I really want to prove that at this first race, where the results will give us our reference point for the rest of the season. I am very excited, in fact I think maybe this is the most excited I have felt before a season in all my years with Yamaha. It's going to be great."
DAVIDE BRIVIO LOOKS FORWARD TO THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
"I'm happy to start racing finally!" said Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team Director, summing up the feelings of his motivated and determined team. "We're all very curious to see how competitive we are going to be. It's seemed like a longer winter than ever with all the testing and it will be great to go racing. It feels like an extra special moment because we are involved in this new challenge that Valentino chose to take on board with Yamaha. We are fully committed to giving him the necessary support, and to succeed with him in the challenge. It's just the beginning of a two-year plan so we still have a lot of time to develop our bike and grow up further."
Brivio is confident that his riders will be well able to handle the challenge of the first event of the year, but stops short of making predictions. "At the last two tests in Spain we had very strange and difficult weather conditions but even then our bike showed good potential, both with Valentino and Carlos, and with the other Yamaha riders. We aim of course to do our best, and I don't want to make any specific results predictions now!" he stated.
"All I can say is that Yamaha has been very busy for many months redesigning many chassis parts and reviewing the engine. Valentino seems quite satisfied with the bike and that makes me relaxed, as it's a good sign that our engineers have done a good job so far. We need to see how the bike copes at the last part of the race under race conditions."
Brivio explained the team's technical approach to Welkom. "Valentino has tested four different chassis and four different engine specs during the winter. He has selected a final race package that was also given to Carlos at the recent test in Barcelona and that combination seems to be the right one to use for Welkom. Carlos also had an important part to play in the bike's winter development as he has worked a lot on the chassis. At the IRTA tests we saw that he can be up there in the top positions. We hope to see both him and Valentino in the top group from Welkom onwards. We are motivated, excited, and ready to race!"
The Phakisa circuit, a stand-alone facility near Welkom in the South African gold fields, is a flat and frequently dusty track, ringed by a speed bowl designed for CART-style car racing. Not used as a venue for pre-season testing, it always throws up some peculiarities come race weekend and has a consistent reputation of featuring a slippery surface due to the dusty environment.
More than most tracks, the key to a quick lap time at Welkom is good machine balance, with a harmonious relationship of chassis and engine, allied to a keen tyre choice for the prevailing conditions. Always bumpy, the low change in gradient over the lap distance of 4.242 kilometres is a factor in suspension set-up. The front and rear suspension needs enough pliability to handle the staccato bumps at full lean, but enough firmness during acceleration to keep the rear tyre in contact with the tarmac at all times, thus preventing understeer on the exit.
Softer springing and damping rates are generally the starting point for the Phakisa set-up, moving progressively firmer as the lap times drop and the work done by the suspension becomes more demanding.
The most significant factor affecting the performance of the engine is the relatively high altitude in that part of South Africa. The thinner air robs any engine of outright power, due to the decreased density of the incoming fuel/air mixture and thus the lower energy yield of each combustion cycle. With all MotoGP machines producing comfortably over 200bhp at present, this may be less of a factor across the board than it may at first appear. Fast work in qualifying, and reference to data from previous seasons, will nonetheless be required to make the necessary fuelling adjustments to the M1 in preparation for raceday.