MotoGP 500 World Championship Round fourteen: Brazilian Grand Prix Rio - JacarepaguÃ¡, October 5/6/7 2000 Son of the King ready for his crown This weekend's Rio Grand Prix begins the final phase of this year's 500 World Championship, and ...
Round fourteen: Brazilian Grand Prix
Rio - Jacarepaguá, October 5/6/7 2000
Son of the King ready for his crown
This weekend's Rio Grand Prix begins the final phase of this year's 500 World Championship, and there's every chance a new 500 king will be crowned at the Autodromo Jacarepagua Nelson Piquet. Current World Championship leader Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) only needs to finish in the top six to clinch the crown, after sole title rival Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) crashed out of the Valencia GP three weeks ago.
If he does take the title, Roberts will create a piece of motorsport history. Son of former racing legend King Kenny Roberts, the 27-year-old's success will give bike racing its first-ever father/son 500 World Champions. Roberts senior won a hat-trick of 500 titles in 1978, '79 and '80.
The younger Roberts' success will also make him Michelin's 20th 500 World Champion, following in the tyre tracks of Barry Sheene (Suzuki, 1976 and 1977), Marco Lucchinelli (Honda, 1981), Franco Uncini (Suzuki, 1982), Freddie Spencer (Honda, 1983 and 1985), Eddie Lawson (Yamaha, 1986 and 1988, Honda, 1989), Wayne Gardner (Honda, 1987), Wayne Rainey (Yamaha, 1990 and 1992), Kevin Schwantz (Suzuki, 1993), Mick Doohan (Honda, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998) and Alex Crivillé (Honda, 1999).
And it is highly likely that Roberts will clinch his crown using Michelin's 16.5in rear slick, which has established itself as the choice of the 500 elite at recent races. The tyre, which has overtaken Michelin's 17in slick in popularity because it offers improved grip, drive and tyre life, was used by the first nine men home at the Valencia GP.
For the first time, Rio race day happens on a Saturday instead of Sunday, to give riders and teams vital extra time to dash to Japan for next weekend's Pacific GP at Motegi.
The riders and the track
The Autodromo Jacarepaguá Nelson Piquet has been hosting motorcycle Grands Prix on and off since the mid-nineties. The circuit had fallen into disrepair before it was renovated for the 1995 GP and since then has hosted events in 1996, 1997 and 1999. Once bumpy and slippery, the circuit was resurfaced for last year's GP and traction is now much improved, though the bumps are still there.
Situated between dramatic granite outcrops and the south Atlantic sea, and a short drive from the bustling city of Rio de Janeiro, Jacarepagua is a twisting, flat circuit with a long 1.1km back straight.
This weekend local hero Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin) will be going for the most important win of his GP career. Revitalised for the 2000 season, the Sao Paulo rider has already won two GPs this year, at Assen and the Sachsenring, his first successes since he won the 1993 Jarama 500 GP.
"To win your home GP is every rider's dream," says Barros, who scored his best-ever Rio result last year, coming home fourth. "I will be doing everything I can to take victory, and I think I'm better prepared than ever this season. I like the track and the last section is my strongest point. The first corner is the bumpiest and I was losing time there last year, but we're going better this season, and I've got enough experience ofthe track to fix any problems we may run into".
"The weather will be hot and Rio is abrasive, so tyres are very, very important. You get a lot of wheelspin and you need a good suspension/tyre combination to get the best out of the bike. It's also a bumpy track, so you need a front end that can absorb the bumps. You push the front tyre a lot at Rio, and of course, if you push it too hard, the bike won't turn. Overall it's a very tough track for suspension and tyres".
"As always, I'll work on my suspension settings first, then once I'm happy with them, I'll do my final work on tyre choice."
Like most of his fellow 500 riders, Barros has switched from Michelin's 17in rear tyres to the newer 16.5in rear, which offers a larger contact patch at maximum lean for more grip, cooler running and longer life.
He used a 16.5in to finish fifth at the recent Valencia GP. "I've been using the 16.5in rear more and more," he reveals. "I first tried the tyre a while back but got a lot of rear-end chatter, something that several Honda riders found with the tyre. But as other riders had more success with the 16.5in, it became obvious we'd have to work on this problem. We concentrated on sorting things when we tested at Catalunya, following the Portuguese GP. We worked really hard, changing springs and damper internals until we finally got it right".
"Now I really like the 16.5in - the tyre has surprised me. It feels a lot more consistent, so when the tyre starts spinning, it's much easier to control and you get a lot more drive out of the corners. There are times when the 17in offers more grip but the 16.5in is better over full-race distance. It has a greater contact patch at high angles of lean, so it runs cooler and stays fresh."
Michelin's response to the challenge of Jacarepaguá.
Last year's Rio Grand Prix was the best ever at the track, with Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin), Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Racing Team-Michelin) and Kenny Roberts exchanging the lead four times on the final lap alone. The trio crossed the line separated by just 0.257 seconds, Norick Abe winning the second 500 GP of his career after colliding with Biaggi at the final turn. The thrilling Japanese star added a third 500 success at Suzuka last April.
Like all the top runners at Rio, the first three men home ran Michelin's dual-compound rear slicks to deal with the harsh demands of the anti-clockwise circuit. This year Michelin will take a batch of further developed dual-compound rubber to Rio, and Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli believes dual-compound 16.5in rears will be the popular choice.
Michelin's 16.5in rear slick has grown increasingly popular during the 2000 season with more and more riders switching to the tyre at recent races. Three weeks ago at Valencia the top nine finishers were all equipped with 16.5s.
"It seems that everyone likes the tyre now," says Morelli. "And I think it's logical that everyone will start with the 16.5in at Rio, work at setting up the bike around that tyre, and then maybe try a 17in. That's the opposite of what used to happen - riders would set the bike with 17s, then maybe try a 16.5in. Most riders have now adapted their bikes to the 16.5in. Both tyres have the same outer circumference, to make them easily interchangeable, but the shoulder that's in contact with the tarmac is a different circumference".
"You need quite strong compound/construction tyres for Rio. The left side of the rear has a tough time because there are a lot of fast, long left handers, through which riders use the same part of the tyre for a long while, controlling slides with the throttle. That puts a lot of stress on the tyre, which is why we make available our dual compounds, with harder rubber on the left. The front doesn't get such a tough time but again you need a strong compound/construction tyre."
Rio had been renowned as a slippery track ever since the venue's first GP in 1995, but the circuit was resurfaced for 1999 and grip is no longer a problem.
"No one really complained about grip last year," adds Morelli. "The surface was much more grippy than before, and also harder, on tyres. It was still bumpy, of course, and we don't know how grippy it will be this time because no one has tested there since last year's race."
Jacarepaguá tyre information
Michelin freights approximately 2,300 tyres to Jacarepagua for this weekend's racing - 1,850 slicks and 450 rain/intermediate tyres. A total of 17 Michelin staff looks after the needs of riders - six technicians, nine fitters one manager and a co-ordinator.
<pre> Jacarepaguá data
Lap record Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda-Michelin) in 1m 51.928s, 158.662kmh/98.588mph (1997)
Pole position 1999 Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) in 1m 52.227s
Recent winners of the Grand Prix of Jacarepaguá 1999 Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin), 45m 34.308s 1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 45m 05.793s 1996 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 45m 56.850s 1995 Luca Cadalora (Marlboro Yamaha Team Roberts), 45m 28.726s
1 - Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) 214 points 2 - Valentino Rossi (Honda-Michelin) 148 points 3 - Carlos Checa (Yamaha-Michelin) 141 points 4 - Garry McCoy (Yamaha-Michelin) 134 points 5 - Loris Capirossi (Honda-Michelin) 126 points 6 - Alex Barros (Honda-Michelin) 121 points 7 - Max Biaggi (Yamaha-Michelin) 118 points 8 - Norick Abe (Yamaha-Michelin) 113 points 9 - Alex Crivillé (Honda-Michelin) 107 points 10 - Nobuatsu Aoki (Suzuki-Michelin) 99 points 11 - Régis Laconi (Yamaha-Michelin) 88 points 12 - Tadayuki Okada (Honda-Michelin) 87 points 13 - Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh (Honda-Michelin) 74 points 14 - Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia-Michelin) 66 points 15 - Sete Gibernau (Honda-Michelin) 59 points 16 - Tetsuya Harada (Aprilia-Michelin) 30 points
500cc category Michelin partners
N° Rider Team 1 Alex Crivillé Repsol YPF Honda Team 2 Kenny Roberts Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 4 Max Biaggi Marlboro Yamaha Team 5 Sete Gibernau Repsol YPF Honda Team 6 Norifumi Abe Antena 3 Yamaha - D'Antin 7 Carlos Checa Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Tadayuki Okada Repsol YPF Honda Team 9 Nobuatsu Aoki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 10 Alex Barros Emerson Honda Pons 15 Yoshiteru Konishi Technical Sport Racing 17 Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh Rizla Honda 18 Sébastien Legrelle Tecmas Honda Elf 20 Phil Giles Sabre Sport 24 Garry McCoy Red Bull Yamaha WCM 25 José Luis Cardoso Maxon Dee Cee Jeans 31 Tetsuya Harada Blu Aprilia Team 46 Valentino Rossi Nastro Azzurro Honda 55 Régis Laconi Red Bull Yamaha WCM 65 Loris Capirossi Emerson Honda Pons 68 Mark Willis Proton KR Team Modenas 99 Jeremy McWilliams Blu Aprilia Team