Inside Line Marlboro Yamaha Team Grand Prix Preview No 6 Marlboro Catalan Grand Prix, Catalunya June 14/15/16 2002 ONWARD AND UPWARD FOR HARD-WORKING MARLBORO YAMAHA TEAM Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa roll up at ...
Marlboro Yamaha Team Grand Prix Preview No 6
Marlboro Catalan Grand Prix, Catalunya
June 14/15/16 2002
ONWARD AND UPWARD FOR HARD-WORKING MARLBORO YAMAHA TEAM
Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa roll up at Catalunya this weekend aiming to maintain their impressive forward progress of recent weeks. Some superb work from Yamaha's racing department in Japan has pushed the mighty YZR-M1 towards the front of the MotoGP pack at the last two GPs in France and Italy, where Biaggi and Checa both qualified in the top three.
A fortnight back at Mugello, Biaggi scored the M1's best-ever finish, coming home a close-run second, and now he wants to go one better. Checa had set the early pace at Mugello, taking provisional pole on day one, and though some cruel luck consigned him to a fourth-place finish, he knows he's ready to fight for victory when things go his way.
The main reasons for the M1's extra performance are a new chassis and seat/tank unit, used for the first time at Mugello, and new parts for the bike's innovative computer-controlled engine-braking system, run for the first time at Le Mans. Last week both Biaggi and Checa tested at Valencia to further improve the performance of these latest upgrades, and they will have each of their bikes equipped with the new chassis and seat/tank units this weekend.
After Sunday's racing the MotoGP season moves into its northern European phase, with the next three events in the Netherlands, on Saturday June 29th, Britain, on Sunday July 14th and Germany, on Sunday July 21st.
HOME-FAVOURITE CHECA GETS FASTER AND FASTER
Local favourite Carlos Checa knows that he and his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 are almost ready for their first MotoGP victory; all he needs is a little luck. The Spanish star made a superb start to GP racing's new four-stroke era, finishing the first two races in third and fifth, and he gets faster and faster, as more and more new parts arrive from Yamaha's hard-toiling race department. In France last month he qualified a superb second quickest and he was third on the grid in Italy. But the last three races have not been kind to him and Checa hopes he can leave his run of bad luck behind, starting this weekend.
"I'm optimistic that things will be better this weekend, I don't know what I've done to deserve so much bad luck!" says Checa. "Catalunya is obviously a very big race for me. We have three GPs in Spain every year but this is really my home GP, because this is where I grew up. There's always a lot of friends and family in the paddock, so I want to make them smile on Sunday, like I did in '96 when I won my first GP there.
"We tested at Valencia for two days last week, which helped us to better understand the new chassis we got for first practice at Mugello, I just hope the chassis gives as good a feeling at Catalunya. We chose Valencia because it's tight and it's been the tighter tracks that have caused us problems. The way we are going at the moment, we aren't far off being able to fight for the win. I think the four-strokes will once again have the advantage over the two-strokes at Catalunya, though maybe not as big an advantage as they had at Mugello. There's a lot of long corners, so you're at maximum angle for a long time, and the four-stroke gives better traction in this situation. Also, the start-finish straight is longer than Mugello's, so the fastest four-strokes will probably be running more than 320kmh again. My only concern is that they had a truck race at Catalunya last week, which can damage the track surface."
Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio shares Checa's confidence. "If it wasn't for some bad luck, Carlos would have had better results at the last two races, for sure," says the Italian. "But we are looking forward to the next few races because the bike is on the way up and we know that Carlos is capable of competing for a win if his luck changes. The M1 has improved a huge amount since we tested at Catalunya in early March, and last week's tests at Valencia were useful because we were able to try different set-ups with the new chassis. Our speed at the last two races shows just how far we've come and just how much effort Yamaha are putting into this project. The factory and the team have been working so hard, now we deserve some good results for our efforts."
M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda adds: "We can use more aggressive geometry settings for Catalunya, compared to Mugello, which is why it was good to go to Valencia because that track also demands quick turning. The new chassis offers improved front-end traction, which also means better braking into turns, and I'm glad that Carlos and Max will have two new chassis each this weekend, instead of just one each, like they had at Mugello."
UPBEAT BIAGGI GETTING CLOSER TO A WIN
Two weeks ago in Italy Max Biaggi scored his best result on his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1, taking a hard-fought second place, just 2.4 seconds off the win. A fortnight earlier he finished third in the French GP, which suggests that the Italian star and his hardworking back-up crew are edging towards achieving the M1's first victory.
Biaggi has been impressed with the recent efforts of his Yamaha engineers, who have turned the M1 into a competitive MotoGP machine in the space of a few weeks, after a difficult start to GP racing's new four-stroke era. Improved engine and chassis performance allowed him to lead both the French and Italian GPs, after qualifying third and second quickest, just a fraction of a second off pole. Last week's team tests at Valencia should allow the former 250 World Champion to increase his impressive pace still further.
"I would like to thank Yamaha for all their efforts during the last few weeks," Biaggi says. "I'm feeling more positive now, much more so than at the start of the season, but if we are to win, we must keep working hard. The new chassis we got for Mugello gives me a better feeling from the front end, though we still need to work at lightening the handling. I think the biggest improvements we've had this year are the upgrade parts for the engine-braking management system which we got before the French GP.
"I like Catalunya a lot, it's one of my favourite tracks, the layout is fun. We tested there at the start of the season when things weren't looking so good, we were having problems with engine braking at that time, but I know we will be more competitive this weekend, so I'm smiling more now!"
Biaggi has won four 250 GPs at Catalunya (in 1993, '94, '95 and '96) and also won the '98 500 GP there, though he was later disqualified from that race. Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio hopes the Italian can join team-mate Checa in the fight for victory at this popular event. "At Mugello Max wasn't far off winning, so we're looking forward to working more with him to get a win," says Brivio. "We are so much closer than we were just six weeks ago at Jerez, we've really reduced the gap. And, of course, Max likes Catalunya a lot, he's had some good races there and if we maintain progress, this could be a great weekend for him. Like other two-rider teams, both riders stimulate each other's performance, and since Catalunya is one of Max's favourite tracks and is Carlos' home circuit, we expect them to encourage each other even more than usual this weekend."
Although Biaggi only had one bike equipped with the new chassis and seat/tank unit at Mugello, because the team hadn't had a chance to test the new designs beforehand, he will have both bikes running the new spec at Catalunya, just like Checa. "The new seat/tank design has helped Max a lot," reveals YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda. "The new tank is smaller and narrower, more like the 500 design. It allows him to move around more, so he feels more at home. Both he and Carlos experienced some chatter during our preseason tests at Catalunya but we believe that the new bike settings will also help solve that problem."
WHAT THE TEAM SAYS
Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's crew chief
"Catalunya is a home GP, both for myself and for Carlos, so we look forward to it," says Jimenez. "I hope I can give Carlos a perfectly set-up bike so that he can score his first win on the M1, why not? Carlos and the bike have the potential to win now, all he needs is a little more luck. But it's not an easy race because Catalunya is one of the most difficult tracks for set-up. The surface isn't very grippy and it's also quite bumpy, plus there's a real variety of corners, some fast and some slow. We need to work on settings to help the bike hold its line on gas through the long turns. Also, the surface is usually very dusty on day one, which can lose you valuable set-up time."
Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief
"I think Max has a good possibility to win at Catalunya," reveals Fanali. "He was third and second at the last two races, so the next step is victory, that's what we're working towards. This is good for Max because the early stages of the year were frustrating for him. He's a top rider who races to win, not just to get a result, so it wasn't easy for him when he knew that he was going into races with little chance of victory. Of course, he always tries just as hard, he never gives up, but now he can feel the bike getting better, so he's happier. Our tests at Valencia last week helped us to work some more on chassis adjustments because he wants the bike to handle more lightly."
Two weeks after racing at Italy's technically demanding Mugello circuit, riders and engineers face another complex challenge at Catalunya this weekend. The Spanish circuit is characterised by long, constant-radius corners that place the emphasis on a flowing riding style, and excellent chassis and tyre performance. But there are two other factors that further complicate matters: the surface has become increasingly bumpy over recent years, making suspension set-up a time-consuming game, and the dusty local environment can cause frequent and unpredictable changes in grip characteristics if dust gets blown onto the tarmac.
Catalunya is in the centre of Spain's motorcycle racing heartland and joined the GP fixture list in 1992, hosting the Grand Prix of Europe. Wayne Rainey (Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha) won the first-ever 500 GP at the track in May '92. In '96 the event was renamed the Catalan Grand Prix. Last year's race was won by World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda), with Max Biaggi second.
CATALUNYA TRACK DATA
Valentino Rossi (Honda)
1m 46.619s (2001)