Winning Start Boosts Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha's 2004 Campaign Having supplied the tools and expertise to allow new signing Valentino Rossi to take a sensational first race win of the season, at the Africa's Grand Prix on April 18, the Gauloises...
Winning Start Boosts Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha's 2004 Campaign
Having supplied the tools and expertise to allow new signing Valentino Rossi to take a sensational first race win of the season, at the Africa's Grand Prix on April 18, the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team enters round two at Jerez in southern Spain riding a wave of confidence. The Factory Team's recent acquisition of Rossi's services has delivered success at the first time of asking and the team has been hard at work since, aiming to emulate their recent success this weekend in Jerez.
Jerez, now the venue for the traditional first round MotoGP stop-off in Europe, is always a celebration of MotoGP excess. The enthusiastic and passionate local crowd, some 200,000 strong over a typical weekend, will be paying particular attention the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team, containing as it does two of their heroes; global star Rossi and their own ever-popular Spanish compatriot Carlos Checa.
Having performed well in off-season testing, Rossi showed what a hard winter of development on the YZR-M1 could achieve at the first attempt. His form at Welkom was nothing short of dominant, heading up both qualifying sessions on his way to a close-fought but nonetheless emphatic win over his oldest rival in the premier class, Max Biaggi (Honda). The race-long fight was proof that the consistently fast times set in pre-season testing were no fluke and, more importantly, proved the potency of the M1 over a full race distance. It was also a record breaking feat for 25-year-old Rossi, who scored GP win number 60 in all classes, and has become the first premier-class rider ever to win his first race after making a move to a different manufacturer. It was Yamaha's first premier-class race win since October 2002, in Malaysia.
The impact of the Welkom win for Yamaha sent ripples through the sporting world. Media and fans ran out of superlatives to heap on Rossi, his experienced pitcrew and the M1 development programme, which has been so adroitly pursued by Yamaha since even before the signing of Rossi last winter.
Yamaha MotoGP Technical Director Masao Furusawa and his colleagues realised that the other manufacturers would redouble their efforts to outdo Yamaha and its new signing, in what was already flagged as the most competitive MotoGP season in history. The work carried out over the past few months has nonetheless already reaped a sweet harvest. Rossi and Yamaha top the Riders' and Manufacturers' Championship tables respectively, each with 25 points.
The ominous news for Rossi's rivals is that, while the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team entered Welkom with data only for the 2003 spec machine, at Jerez Rossi and Checa will both have some degree of experience of the latest evolution M1, gathered at the recent IRTA tests there in early April. The team's confidence levels will be fuelled even more by the knowledge that Rossi was fastest during that test, with team-mate Carlos Checa in the top four.
The Spaniard found less than smooth qualifying sessions at the Welkom track and eventually finished 10th in the race. Checa now hopes that the mid-race traction concerns that held back his most recent progress on the M1 will be solved quickly in Jerez this weekend. The partisan Spanish crowd will be the tonic Carlos needs as he approaches what is the first of three 'home' races for the 31-year-old this season.
ROSSI AIMING FOR REPEAT PERFORMANCE
The fame of Rossi, already a global motorsport icon, was redoubled after his Welkom race win. The laid-back native of the hill town of Tavullia, near the Adriatic coast of Italy, was so overcome with emotion at winning his first ever MotoGP race for Yamaha that he stopped out on track on the slow-down lap and wept tears of pure joy and relief. His comments before Welkom had hinted that a podium prize of any colour would be an achievement of note. To take the ultimate prize at the first attempt was doubly satisfying.
With some distance between him and his most recent day of glory, Rossi stated, "Obviously after our success in Welkom I am really looking forward to Jerez. Our tests went well there so it will be interesting to see if we can be on top for the race as well. It was such a great moment in Welkom but we must not let that stop us from continuing to work as hard when we arrive in Jerez, and at least we already have some experience with the Jerez circuit. It's a circuit that I like quite a lot, it holds many happy memories for me and also my favourite corner of any track is at Jerez, the last right hand turn before the hairpin.
"We are ahead of where I was expecting us to be at this stage so even more reason why we should not sit back and relax. Welkom was such a close race and the Honda bike and Honda riders are obviously really competitive, there is not much between us. Anyway we will of course be aiming for a podium again, as we will at every race this year."
CHECA WORKING FOR STRONG HOME RESULT
After some excellent pre-season performances, and much hard work in terms of machine and tyre development, Carlos Checa may have expected more from his latest African adventure.
"Obviously I was very disappointed with the South African race and I was a bit unlucky with the problems I had there," affirmed Checa, now a London resident. "After the Welkom race I had a meeting with my mechanics and we discussed the reasons behind the problems I had over the weekend. They will decide what the best way forward is and we will work together to make the necessary changes."
The recent IRTA tests at Jerez may offer some valuable data for Checa's back-up crew, as he attempts to overturn his recent Welkom ill-fortunes. "In Spain we will start with one bike with the same set-up as we used during the last Jerez test. We will then work from there to find the best race setting. We used a different set-up in South Africa which we won't use this time. I have had bad luck for the last two years in Jerez and have been unable to finish the races due to problems over which I had no control, so I hope that this time things will be better!"
Checa acknowledges that a home race can be hard work off track as well as on.
"Spain is a bit different; there are friends everywhere and many fans. It is a track I know well and the fans there give me a strong feeling of encouragement; I hope I can give them a good show. I am comfortable at this track and I know the corners and the braking points well. It is also safer than it used to be due to some alterations that have been made to the circuit."
Checa welcomes the addition of Rossi to the team this year, recognising the potential benefits to his own campaign. "Valentino's result in Welkom proved that the bike can go faster and, although I don't want to say I can do the same as him straight away, this provides me with some encouragement. It is in our hands to improve our position and it is my biggest wish to be at a point in Jerez where I can fight at the front."
DAVIDE BRIVIO LOOKS AT THE BIGGER JEREZ VISTA
"We are very much looking forward to the Jerez Grand Prix, especially after the perfect start to the season from Valentino in Welkom", said Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team Director. "We cannot, however, rest for a moment if we want to keep doing the same. Many people have been asking if it will mean even more pressure in Jerez because we won in Welkom. I don't think it's a question of more pressure, as the win has given us a bit more confidence. If anything the win has actually lifted the pressure because we know for sure that we are capable of winning, and that all the hard work we have put into renovating the bike has been in the right direction. We will certainly try to win at every race this season, although that might not be possible as our competitors are so close. It depends on the specific situation at each track.
Brivio acknowledges that the Welkom victory will have had a galvanising effect on the opposition. "For sure everyone is now going to be trying even harder to beat us and they will speed up their development accordingly. We need to work hard to combat their reaction. It won't be easy but we will try to give both riders the ammunition to win.
Of the circuit itself, Brivio stated, "Jerez is a circuit that Valentino likes a lot. He said that the Welkom circuit was not one of his favourites and then he won there, and he says that the Jerez circuit is one he likes a lot, so hopefully that means he will be up at the front again! Most tracks will be new challenges for Valentino on the M1 apart from the tracks he tested at during the winter, so we're not sure what to expect. But he rode well at the Jerez IRTA test almost a month ago and hopefully he will do so again. Carlos has not had the start to the year we were hoping for, but we have every confidence in him for Jerez. His IRTA test times were good there and we expect to see him fighting at the top in front of his home fans on Sunday."
The 4.423 km Jerez circuit may have lost the crown of the most popular testing venue on the calendar but its location and perennial appearance of the MotoGP line-up still makes it a favourite in pre-season.
With the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team having tested extensively this season in Malaysia and Australia, the Jerez testing was confined to two weather-affected days during the IRTA Tests. Extensive 'primary' safety work, in the form of improved run-off, has been a direct result of the increased power and speed of the current breed of MotoGP machines and is the latest in a string of revamps at the Andalusian circuit.
The Jerez circuit features five left and eight right hand corners, a surprising degree of elevation and to some extent camber changes on what, to the casual observer is a largely flat track layout.
Exactness of line makes precise and repeatable chassis set-up a must, and to make the most of the squirts between corners a clean and predictable throttle response is needed throughout the rev-range. With only a 600m main straight, Jerez is not a long-legged track in the classic mould, but was in the vanguard of more safety-conscious arena-style tracks. Thus absolute horsepower comes into play relatively infrequently, the most important factor being set-up for predictable performance through frequent changes of direction.
Some heavy braking points around the track make that aspect of performance vital to a good race result, while the surface is neither the slickest nor most abrasive on the calendar.
With Jerez a well-known quantity, even from previous seasons, the set-up of the bike is expected to be tuned in relatively quickly, with the fight for pole position expected to be another particularly close one. The pressure to do well in qualifying has been redoubled this season, as MotoGP now features a three-rider grid row, down from the previous four. This qualifying for the front row is a more difficult task by far.