BACK TO WHERE IT ALL BEGAN The 2002 MotoGP World Championship is re-ignited this weekend at Brno, where the Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 first hit the headlines last summer. During July 2001 Carlos Checa tested the M1 at the Czech track, smashing...
BACK TO WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The 2002 MotoGP World Championship is re-ignited this weekend at Brno, where the Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 first hit the headlines last summer. During July 2001 Carlos Checa tested the M1 at the Czech track, smashing the 500 lap record, the first indication that the new breed of four-stroke MotoGP bikes would be astonishingly fast.
Now Checa and team-mate Max Biaggi return to Brno, where they aim to score the M1's first win. Last month in Germany, Biaggi came within 0.7 seconds of taking the bike's first success, and Checa has also proved that he can run at the front aboard the M1. This weekend a range of revised chassis and aerodynamics parts should get the Italian and the Spaniard, currently third and fifth overall, even closer to victory.
Over the past four weeks both men have been taking some much needed rest and relaxation during the sport's traditional midseason hiatus, with a brief visit to Zandvoort in Holland for the big Marlboro Masters F3 event their only official duty.
Sunday's Czech Grand Prix, round ten of this year's 16-race World Championship, is the penultimate event before the MotoGP circus packs up and heads out of Europe for a gruelling run of 'flyway' races in South America and the Pacific Rim region. The season concludes back in Europe, at Valencia in Spain, on November 3.
REVISED CHASSIS & AERODYNAMIC PACKAGE FOR M1
The Marlboro Yamaha Team's YZR-M1s will benefit from an impressive range of upgrade parts this weekend, proof that Yamaha's race department hasn't been quiet during the sport's midseason recess. A new fairing and modified chassis are available to Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa at Brno, and both men intend to make the best use of the new package around this challenging, high-speed circuit.
Aside from Japan's one-week summer holiday, Yamaha engineers have been working to maintain the amazing momentum they've built up with the ever-improving M1. The machine has benefited from a constant flow of development parts that have made it one of the most competitive machines on the MotoGP grid. Back in June, Biaggi scored the bike's first pole position at Catalunya, and the Marlboro Yamaha Team currently holds second place in the MotoGP team's league table. Good results from both riders at Brno would be the best-possible start to the year's final run of seven GPs.
Riders need plenty of everything at Brno - plenty of horsepower, plenty of chassis performance and plenty of commitment for the circuit's sweeping turns and esses, many of which feature adverse-camber entries. These are three reasons why the team will stay on to test at the majestic Czech venue after the GP.
"Yamaha have been working very hard to give us many new parts, it's amazing what they've achieved," says Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "Although we've had a month's break from racing, the race department has been as busy as usual, apart from their one-week holiday. We have new parts for Brno. But, as with anything new, we need to wait and see how everything works when we get it to the track. We weren't able to test these parts because testing has not been allowed in August during the run-up to this race."
Yamaha's latest efforts should give the YZR-M1 an all-round boost. "We have a modified chassis, with different rear-shock pivot, to give us the extra suspension movement we've been looking for," reveals project leader Ichiro Yoda. "We also have a new fairing, for less drag and better cooling. We hope the M1 will be good at Brno, the bike's performance through downhill sections is good, and that's important at this track."
Brivio and his entire crew are looking forward to this tenth race of the season. "I think the holidays have been good for all of us," he adds. "Our riders have been able to relax, clear their minds and thus arrive at Brno with renewed energy for the final seven races. Both have been very fast and consistent at recent Grands Prix and I'm sure we can expect them to continue fighting for the M1's first win."
BRNO - BIAGGI'S TOP TRACK
Max Biaggi has enjoyed more success at Brno than at any other racetrack on the World Championship calendar. The Marlboro Yamaha Team ace scored four back-to-back 250 wins at the circuit, from 1994 to '97 (with Aprilia and Honda machinery), and has taken two premier class victories at the demanding venue, in '98 with Honda and two years ago with Yamaha. The Italian's graceful and super-precise riding style is perfectly suited to Brno's curves.
This weekend he returns for his first four-stroke race at the circuit. Biaggi did briefly ride an early version of the YZR-M1 at Brno during team tests last July, but since he was battling for the last-ever 500 title at the time, he focused his attention on his YZR500.
"Brno is definitely one of my favourite tracks," he says. "The layout is great, there's a lot of fairly high-speed chicanes, where changing direction fast is what counts, and there's some uphill turns and some downhill turns. Brno is also very wide, so you can use a lot of different lines, depending on your situation, so that makes it really interesting to ride. It's up to the rider to use the best line every lap and you've got to be so precise with your lines. Precision gives you a real premium here and I think that's why I love the track. The four-stroke will be different from the 500, so we'll work to get it as good as possible, then I'll try my best in the race.
"We have been performing very well at the last few races, every time we're in the battle for the podium. After Germany, where the two-strokes were quite fast, the four-strokes should be quick at Brno, there's several long straights where you need a lot of horsepower."
Biaggi has been taking things easy since last July's German GP, where he was a brilliant runner-up. "It's been good to have some holidays," he smiles. "I've spent some time on the sea, just doing nothing, having fun with my girlfriend and friends."
Biaggi currently holds third place in the 2002 MotoGP World Championship, just 15 points behind Tohru Ukawa (Honda). He's finished inside the top four at the last six GPs, scoring three runner-up finishes, one third place and two fourth places.
CHECA: BRNO WILL BE BETTER
Thirteen months ago, Carlos Checa's pace aboard the brand-new Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 during private Brno tests was the talk of the Grand Prix paddock. The Spaniard shattered race and lap records during the session, and from that moment on everyone knew that the new age of four-stroke MotoGP racing was going to be the fastest ever.
Since then Checa and team-mate Biaggi have been developing the M1 into a force capable of challenging for race victories. Back in April Checa gave the bike a third-place debut at the season-opening Japanese GP and he's been on the pace at several GPs since, qualifying on the front row four times and usually in the race for a podium finish. At last month's British GP he set the pace, leading more than half the race before a slow-speed spill robbed him of a potential first MotoGP victory. In Germany he was a close-run fourth, just 2.33 seconds down on the winner, and he believes things will be even better at Brno.
"Brno will be better for the four-strokes than the last two tracks," he reveals. "I've already ridden the M1 at Brno, but the bike is very different now, and the tyres too. During those tests we saw the potential of the machine for the first time and since then we've all worked very hard to make big improvements. Yamaha have done a great job, they are incredibly committed to this project. We have new parts for Brno, which I'm looking forward to testing during Friday practice.
"Brno is a very nice track, it's fast and wide, with some long, sweeping corners and some great downhill and uphill sections. I think the circuit should be good for the M1's character and personally I rate it as one of the best we race at."
Since last month's German GP Checa has been touring Scotland and getting to know the area around his new home in North Yorkshire, England. "We all needed a holiday," he adds. "But now I'm ready to get back to work."
Checa is currently fifth in the MotoGP World Championship, just two points behind Alex Barros (Honda). He has scored three podium finishes but has also suffered three DNFs.
WHAT THE TEAM SAYS
Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"There's a lot of esses at Brno, so it's important to find the right set-up, so the rider can change direction very fast. We will have a modified chassis here, which is designed to increase manoeuvrability, and getting the chassis just right will be one of our main focuses during the weekend. The other concern at Brno is chatter. There are a lot of downhill corners, through which riders really load up the front tyre, though we've had very little chatter from the M1. Overall, I'd say Brno should be good for Max, it's one of his favourite tracks."
Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"Brno's a good track, Carlos loves it so much. We were there last summer with the first M1 and the test went really well. Of course, the bike and tyres have changed a lot but we'll be able to use some of that data to give us a base set-up from which to start the weekend. It's important to have a fast bike at Brno because there's some fast straights, some of them uphill. Our main goal for chassis performance will be to find good braking stability, so that Carlos can go into corners with the brake on. If he can do that, he can attack corners properly."
Brno is a masterpiece of a motorcycle race circuit. Constructed in the mid-eighties, it eschews the modern fashion of tight turns and hairpins for a mighty mix of fast sweepers and undulating corners that test rider talent and engineering to the limit. Most riders love the place because it's challenging and also because it's very fast.
But Brno's most significant characteristic is its constant changes of elevation - the circuit weaves its way across forested hillsides - which means that many of the turns are steeply cambered. Dealing with negative camber corners requires a perfectly set-up machine, deft riding skills and especially crucial input from tyre engineers. Horsepower is also a major consideration at Brno because this is one racetrack where MotoGP bikes, usually caged in by mostly slower venues, really get moving.
The circuit was built to replace Brno's treacherous street circuit that had hosted GPs since the mid-sixties; you still pass the old pit complex on the way from the city centre to the current venue. Last year's 500 GP was won by Valentino Rossi (Honda).