Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa put in a determined and consistently solid effort at the Estoril circuit during today's opening qualifying session of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Checa kicked off proceedings with quick lap times in this ...
Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa put in a determined and consistently solid effort at the Estoril circuit during today's opening qualifying session of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Checa kicked off proceedings with quick lap times in this morning's free practice, setting the third fastest time overall. The Spaniard then challenged for provisional pole in this afternoon's opening qualifying session, despite typically gusty conditions, finally completing the session sixth fastest.
Last year Checa qualified in pole position at the Estoril venue, and finished the rain-swamped race in second place. The confidence he displayed here with his Yamaha YZR-M1 machine last year is still apparent, as with only minutes of this afternoon's qualifying session remaining he put in a performance that placed him second fastest on the time sheets. The Fortuna Yamaha man then backed up that result with a string of fastest lap stages, which put him on course for provisional pole, before a small mistake in the final stage relegated him back to sixth place.
The last run to the session-ending flag became a six way battle between Checa, eventual provisional pole man Valentino Rossi (Honda, 1'39.391), second placed Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team, 1'39.680), Max Biaggi (Honda, 1'39.691), Tohru Ukawa (Honda, 1'39.730) and Sete Gibernau (Honda, 139.736). Checa's final lap time of 1'39.905 was just 0.514 seconds off pole, and despite missing out on the provisional front row, Checa remains confident that he and the team can improve for tomorrow's crucial final qualifying session.
"I'm quite close here to the top group, so I'm feeling pretty positive," said a fairly upbeat Checa. "I am still having some front traction problems but I hope we can sort that out with some small set-up adjustments. We made a bit of a breakthrough, in Brno in the race and during the Michelin tyre test the day after, in terms of lap time consistency, and we've obviously carried that progress here with us. For sure getting pole position here along with a good race result last year gives me more confidence as well, as it's become a circuit that I like a lot. At the end of the session I put in a good lap time with fresh tyres; then I was going for an even better when I made a small mistake. I ran a little bit wide. It was very close anyway between the top riders, just a matter of tenths of a second between us, so I 'm sure we can secure a decent grid position tomorrow."
Fellow Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Marco Melandri had a 'first up and then down' day in Estoril. After a strong morning practice session, during which the young Italian set the seventh fastest time aboard his YZR-M1, the 21-year-old's afternoon didn't proceed as planed. In order to improve the overall balance of his bike, the team opted for a new direction in geometry set-up for this afternoon's session. This proved to be unsuccessful, as it left Melandri lacking confidence in the front-end of his machine, and as a result he was left languishing back in 15th place with a lap time of 1' 40.836.
"After this morning's practice I was hoping to improve my time quite a lot for this afternoon," explained Melandri. "We've modified the front a little bit since this morning and the bike has changed quite a lot. It was not so easy to get into the corners because I felt like I was losing grip. Perhaps we have actually changed a bit too much, so this is something we will discuss before tomorrow's practice, and hopefully rectify the problem to give me a bit more confidence. Anyway in a way I am still learning as I have not had many laps at this circuit on this bike, so I'm sure tomorrow will be easier."
Team Director Davide Brivio said, "This is one of Carlos' strongest tracks and it is showing in his performance so far. He is, generally, on an upwards trend at the moment in terms of confidence with the bike. We will work as hard as we can this weekend, as always, to ensure that he has a chance for a podium finish on Sunday.
"Marco has not been very sure of the bike in terms of cornering today but we must remember that because of his fall at the IRTA test here earlier this year, when he injured his shoulder, this is almost a completely new circuit for him with the M1. I'm sure that after tomorrow's morning practice he will be more used to the bike's handling here and ready to put in some fast laps in qualifying."
PROVISIONAL FRONT ROW
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'39.391
2. Olivier Jacque (FRA) Gauloises YAMAHA Team 1'39.680
3. Max Biaggi (ITA) Camel Pramac Pons HONDA 1'39.691
4. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) Camel Pramac Pons HONDA 1'39.730
6. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'39.905
15. MARCO MELANDRI (ITA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'40.836