Fortuna Yamaha Team Catalunya GP preview

European MotoGP sector passes halfway stage After driving 1200 km in a day-and-a-half since Sunday's Italian Grand Prix in Mugello, the Fortuna Yamaha Team trucks rolled into the Circuit de Catalunya on Tuesday. The track, located at Montmelo...

European MotoGP sector passes halfway stage

After driving 1200 km in a day-and-a-half since Sunday's Italian Grand Prix in Mugello, the Fortuna Yamaha Team trucks rolled into the Circuit de Catalunya on Tuesday. The track, located at Montmelo just to the north of Barcelona, will play host to Sunday's Gran Premio de Catalunya - the sixth installment of the 16-round MotoGP World Championship.

After a tough weekend in Mugello played out in over 30 degree temperatures, the team came away disappointed after a typically close and thrilling MotoGP race. After showing some good early pace Carlos Checa slipped to eighth at the flag and MotoGP-rookie Marco Melandri came home eleventh. The result was another blow for the Fortuna Yamaha Team that has not had the start to the 2003 season that it wanted or expected. The first Grand Prix in Suzuka saw 20-year-old Melandri fracture his ankle in the opening practice session and he consequently missed that race and the Africa's Grand Prix. When Melandri did return to action at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez he was hampered by a back problem that left him struggling in the race before an off-track excursion dropped him to a 17-place finish. Checa, meanwhile, seemed to have found some good pace in the opening two laps at Jerez but was denied the chance to prove it by a rare electrical failure on his YZR-M1. At the following race in Le Mans Melandri looked to be back to full place with a front-row qualifying performance only to be frustrated by rain and the wrong tyre-choice. Checa, meanwhile, was out of luck again as he slid out on a damp patch before the race was interrupted for the conditions.


As Carlos Checa returns to his native Catalunya this weekend it is important that he also arrives back to where he belongs - in the leading pack of MotoGP riders! Checa will be hoping to put an end to the team's run of poor luck and to show the speed and fight he is famous for in this bike-mad area of Spain.

Marco Melandri loses the pressure of his own home race this week, but still keeps the pressure on himself as he looks to establish himself as a major force in the premier class. The 2002 250cc World Champion tested the YZR-M1 at the Barcelona track pre-season and hopes to be able to maintain the steady progression he's made with the bike since returning from injury.

Fortuna Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio is also keen to see a return to winning ways. "There's no doubt that as a team we have not achieved what we wanted from the first five races of the season," he admits. "We have had our fair share of bad luck, but that's racing. We're an experienced crew and we know that it is vital to remain positive and focused. I am confident that our season will turn around. I hope this weekend will be the start of that. Certainly Carlos will be very motivated and I hope he has a good race like last year.

"We tested at Barcelona a few times during the winter but, of course, conditions were very different from now and we've also made a few changes to the M1 since then. It will be very hot this weekend so we'll have to look again at set-up and tyres during practice.

"There are some positives that we've taken away from last weekend's Italian Grand Prix. Carlos found a good feeling on the bike and ran in the leading group for quite a while. For Marco it was, once again, just important to build up his experience over race distance."


As a MotoGP circuit Catalunya offers a main straight capable of encouraging speeds exceeding 330kmh, and is completed by a sequence of long radius, medium/high speed sweeping turns and two tight left-hand hairpins. In some regards Barcelona resembles Jerez (Spain); with bumps an issue for riders on the entry to the braking areas - although less intense. But the combination of long radius corners riddled with a variety of cambers makes it more demanding on chassis balance. For this reason the 4727m circuit is always a feature on the pre-season IRTA test calendar, and is often considered to be the true indicator of a bike's full potential.

Due to the long-radius corners front-end feel will be a key concern for both Fortuna Yamaha Team riders. But it must be found without sacrificing the overall balance of the M1, as too much time is spent feathering the power through the sides of the tyres before punching the bike out onto the next straight. With handling the M1's strength the Fortuna Yamaha Team will make little modification to the geometry, when compared with what is used in Mugello. And of this minimal modification, the good base geometry will be fettled for a little extra front-end bias. Most of this will be achieved, however, not through chassis modifications, but rather straightforward suspension preload and damping adjustments.


Local favourite Fortuna Yamaha rider Carlos Checa knows that he needs to pull off a top result in Catalunya to give him the chance to improve his position in the World Championship standings, in which he currently lies 13th. Checa finished last year's season in sixth position so needs to progress significantly to regain the points he has missed out on so far and regain his old form. His season has been uncharacteristically bleak, with his best result of the five races that have passed at the Italian Grand Prix last weekend where he finished eighth. He was as high as fifth in the opening laps of the race but lost his rhythm and slipped back to eight before the chequered flag. The Spaniard has been unlucky in the other races, being forced to stop with electronic problems in Jerez, and slipping on a wet patch in Le Mans, although his qualifying performances and lap times have been fair, coming within tenths of seconds of the fastest riders.

Although notoriously one of the more challenging circuits of the championship calendar, Checa's performance in Catalunya last year bodes well for the forthcoming race. He started from the second row on the grid and went on to lead much of the race but slipped back to finish third, his second podium finish of last season after the opening round in Japan. Checa has had several tests during the winter at his local circuit which gave him more time to familiarise himself with the set-up of his YZR-M1 machine there.

Despite his tricky start to the 2003 season, the Spanish rider remains both objective and determined to change his run of bad luck, "The key to the Catalunya circuit is to keep stability and consistency from beginning to end of the race," said Checa about the circuit, which is situated north of Barcelona. "In my experience at Catalunya I have not really been able to do this and keep the pace from beginning to end. If I could do that there, I could probably gain a few seconds. The track doesn't have so much grip level, and as soon as I lose grip with the rear I can't turn the bike on an angle - that's my biggest concern at this circuit.

"Overall you need to find a good combination there with the bike, of tyres and suspension. I find it difficult to spin the rear with this bike and I never lose traction but it's important not to lose any time at the last two turns at this circuit. If you compare the practice times in Catalunya with the race times, there is always a big difference. The front tyre must be stable for the downhill sections and the suspension must be good to cope with the bumps."

Despite the extra pressure that all riders feel when it comes to performing in front of their home crowds, Checa tries not to let it affect him, "Catalunya is just one more race," he said, "and I must try as hard there as I do at other races. I feel a lot of mixed emotions when I race in Spain but professionally I must look upon it as just another race, and aim to do well everywhere."


The new recruit to Yamaha's factory team Marco Melandri is impatient to show his potential with his YZR-M1 machine, perhaps more so than any other rider as the young Italian had a late start to his first season in the premier MotoGP class. A damaging fall at the opening round in Suzuka and fractured ankle bones meant Melandri missed the first two races, and then used the next race to get used to riding again. At the fourth Grand Prix at the Le Mans circuit in France he showed a flicker of his capability when he earned himself a front row start and fought his way up to as high as third position in the race, which was stopped because of rain after 16 laps. Unfortunately his luck ran out when he made a wrong tyre choice in the ensuing interval and was unable to find his former force in the latter part of the race.

Melandri also had a disappointing home Grand Prix in Mugello, Italy, last weekend as a technical problem prevented him from achieving his goal at the most crucial point during the race. He had featured as high as sixth and looked set to go even higher when problems in third gear meant he could not push hard in the corners, and he crossed the finish line in eleventh place. This was a disappointing conclusion to the weekend for Melandri, who has been feeling increasingly confident on his Yamaha machine since his unlucky season outset.

He is more determined than ever to have the chance to push himself for a full race with no complications, either physical or technical, "I like the Catalunya circuit," he enthused, "I think we'll find some combination set-up from our winter test feedback there which takes into account the difference in the weather, which is sure to be very different. Since our last test there my bike has changed a lot, and mostly during last weekend in Mugello. If we continue to work as we did there I think we can improve every time.

"In Catalunya you have to use the throttle a lot when the rear tyre is down. I won the 250cc race there last year, so feel quite comfortable on that track. I was very disappointed with the result in Mugello last week - it's always frustrating when you don't get what you want. But that is part of the sport. It's not good to dwell on what has happened before but just to take with you the positive experiences. I was feeling very good with the bike until things started to go wrong last week, so I need to get that feeling again and have the chance to run a whole race with no complications."


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Carlos Checa , Marco Melandri , Davide Brivio