Penultimate Hurdle Approaches For Rossi and Checa The last leg of a punishing overseas schedule for the entire MotoGP paddock takes place at Phillip Island this weekend, with the Australian Grand Prix following hard on the heels of consecutive...
Penultimate Hurdle Approaches For Rossi and Checa
The last leg of a punishing overseas schedule for the entire MotoGP paddock takes place at Phillip Island this weekend, with the Australian Grand Prix following hard on the heels of consecutive races in Qatar and Malaysia. The third meeting on the third continent in three weekends for Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Carlos Checa will be a true test of rider concentration and stamina, before the circus returns to Europe for the final round of the year in Valencia on October 31.
Fluctuating fortunes for Rossi in the past two races have seen him plumb the depths at Qatar, where he scored no points, then securing a magnificent win at Sepang, extending his championship advantage to 30 points in the process. There is now only one rider who can overtake Rossi in these final stages of the championship; Honda rider Sete Gibernau, who finished seventh at Sepang.
Rossi has now won seven of the 14 MotoGP races this season and taken five pole positions, a remarkable achievement since his induction to the Yamaha Factory Team earlier this year. Already three times a premier-class World Champion, the Italian is looking to secure his fourth consecutive world title in Australia in Sunday's race, where a finish in the top two will guarantee him the crown with one race to spare. The 25-year-old Italian rates Phillip Island as one of his all-time favourite circuits -- as inevitably he might - having ridden one of the best races of his life there to win the 2003 event, despite suffering a ten second penalty.
Checa has also enjoyed highs and lows in his 2004 season but the 31-year-old, who turns 32 on Friday, will be pushing to finish his Phillip Island weekend with even better results than his highpoints thus far. Checa claimed a second place at Le Mans earlier this year, and pole position at the recent Qatar race. A charging ride at last weekend's Sepang event put him in a podium-challenging position before unlucky chatter from his YZR-M1 slowed his pace.
ROSSI READY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWDOWN
Valentino Rossi has always described the dramatic Phillip Island circuit as being one of his favourite tracks, and in 2004 he is still rating it as one of his preferred racing venues; "I love Phillip Island, it's one of my favourites and I've always managed to ride well there. We did a lot of testing there during the winter and got some good results. I think we can do well there again. The bike has changed so much since then, the Yamaha engineers and my crew have done a fantastic job.
"The most important thing for us this weekend will be to remain more than a hundred percent focused, as we did last weekend. There is always room for error, as we found out in Qatar. We had thought we were well ahead in the championship but we were wrong. So this weekend is going to be tough, and for sure a spectacular battle. We can't afford to think it's over, we need to use tactics and commit ourselves like we did in Sepang.
"Each victory with Yamaha this year has meant so much to me, it's definitely been a special year. There is of course still room for improvement, things we can do to improve the M1, but I think Phillip Island suits this bike and hopefully we can make a good job of it."
CHECA LOOKS FORWARD TO ANTIPODEAN CHALLENGE
Like most riders and his team-mate Rossi, Checa has a great fondness for the Australian Grand Prix, as well as the country itself. "I always enjoy spending time in Australia. It's a nice place in so many ways," said Checa. "The problem is that it can be quite cold there at this time of year. We made two tests there pre-season, which will help us, although, as in Sepang, the bike has changed a lot since then."
About the bike set-up for the circuit, Checa stated, "The track is very fast and we had some problems at Sepang on the fastest sections, so we need to work on that. We should find the best way to get into those fast turns with the speed and contact I did not have in Malaysia. The base setting there is similar to what we used in Sepang, and we just have to see what we have from the tyres. I want to finish with my best result of the year there. I feel strong and I have the feeling that I can be up there when the bike is working at its best. It would be nice to find the limit of the machine in Australia."
DAVIDE BRIVIO -- TEAM DIRECTOR
The importance of the Phillip Island race is not lost on the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio, as the season hurtles towards its climax. "Phillip Island is a very important race for the championship. We have a 30-point advantage to manage and we have to try to do the same as we did in Sepang -- have a high level of concentration and work very well with the bike."
Having seen what Rossi can do in Australia at the two pre-season tests in February and March, Brivio is aiming high down under. "The whole team and Valentino like Phillip Island and I think this weekend we can repeat what we did in Sepang last weekend. We have tested at Phillip Island twice this year, the second one was the last test we did overseas, and we made good improvements. It really was one of our key tests. It was where we prepared for the push at the beginning of the season."
Despite the euphoria engendered by Rossi's last triumphant race in Malaysia, Brivio guards against taking anything for granted. "We have the possibility to be good but in a race we have to keep our concentration. Carlos likes it there and I look forward to seeing both riders at the top."
With considerably more than 200bhp at their command from their Yamaha YZR-M1s, Rossi and Checa will have the tools to compete with their peers at the fast Phillip Island circuit. Nonetheless the Aussie track demands far more than just a fast bike to make for quick and consistent lap times.
The sweeping and flowing circuit is possibly one of the ultimate tests of machine control and throttle accuracy, not to mention the sheer bravery and forcefulness required of the rider.
Frequent heavy braking is less of a consideration at Phillip Island than most other tracks, and thus a certain level of stability under braking can be sacrificed to allow for greater cornering finesse and agility.
The 4.448km Phillip Island track has undergone considerable trackside improvements over the winter, aimed at enhancing rider safety. Nonetheless a fast lap of Phillip Island is still rated as one of the most adrenaline-fuelled experiences in any rider's season.
The compromise between setting the suspension at a hard enough level to handle the high cornering forces, while remaining supple over the few high speed ripples, is the goal at 'The Island'. This also helps to prevent the rear end from trying to spin out on the slower corners, losing crucial acceleration.
Overly stiff suspension will not allow the rear end to squat to the required degree under power, making the rear tyre work excessively hard around what is predominantly a left-handed track, promoting premature tyre wear. Rider confidence through suspension consistency is a key at such a fast track, allowing the rider to push the pace for the entire race distance.
The seemingly never-ending final corner is crucial to a good lap time at Phillip Island, and a high speed exit will also determine how soon the rider can reach top speed down the long main straight, another important factor, especially in the last lap of a close race.
Aerodynamics is important, with the current angular M1 less prone to the effects of the high cross winds than earlier versions. Phillip Island's exposed nature means that weather is a constant talking point in the Australian spring climate, adding to the potential complications during set-up, qualifying and race.