Fortuna Yamaha Team South African GP preview

Fortuna Yamaha Team crosses continents for second round in Welkom. The MotoGP World Championship will continue this weekend in South Africa after a three-week pause since the opening round in Japan on 6th April. The Fortuna Yamaha Team riders...

Fortuna Yamaha Team crosses continents for second round in Welkom.

The MotoGP World Championship will continue this weekend in South Africa after a three-week pause since the opening round in Japan on 6th April. The Fortuna Yamaha Team riders have not been idle in the interim. A disappointingly wet test at Suzuka on the Monday and Tuesday was followed by some long-haul flights for both Spaniard Carlos Checa and the team's replacement for the injured Marco Melandri, Norick Abe. Melandri, meanwhile, flew home to Italy after Japan has been working hard on his recuperation process.

Carlos Checa travelled to the United States from Japan and has been spending time with Yamaha's three-time World Champion Wayne Rainey at his Californian home in Monterrey. He comes to Welkom fresh for the ongoing MotoGP Championship challenge on his four-stroke Yamaha YZR-M1 and ready to improve on his Suzuka result.

The 30-year-old Spaniard will be joined in his challenge this weekend by Yamaha factory test rider Norick Abe. Due to a fall in Suzuka which left him with multiple leg injuries, Checa's regular team-mate Marco Melandri is temporarily out of action. The 27-year old Abe is a former GP regular who finished sixth in the 2002 Championship. The Japanese rider had been due to compete in his season-opening home GP as a wildcard, but with Melandri ruled out of the race he was drafted in as a replacement and rode to 11th place.

The MotoGP paddock is still reeling from shock at the tragic loss of Japanese former 250cc World Champion Daijiro Kato. The Honda rider's crash during the Suzuka race two weeks ago left him in a critical condition in hospital and he finally lost his battle for life early on Sunday 20th April.

"It is difficult to think about racing now that we have heard this news about Kato", said Davide Brivio, Team Director of the Fortuna Yamaha Team. "Our thoughts go to Daijiro's wife and children, as well as his team, and we hope they can find the strength to continue. We have to go on to race in South Africa now, and I think that is what Kato would have wanted."


The Fortuna Yamaha Team is ever hopeful for success as it moves to Welkom for the only MotoGP round to take place on the African continent. Carlos Checa and his new team-mate Norick Abe stayed on after the Suzuka Grand Prix for two days with members of the team for a pre-arranged Yamaha test at the Japanese circuit. During the test Abe had the opportunity to ride the latest 2003 race-spec YZR-M1, which he will ride in this weekend's Africa's Grand Prix. Meanwhile Checa tested a new evolution chassis which the team is considering to use in Welkom. Unfortunately heavy rain meant that scheduled track time for the pair was significantly reduced but there was at least some time for Abe to familiarise himself with the Fortuna Yamaha M1 machine.

The bike that Abe will ride differs slightly from his Spanish team-mate's. Checa sampled a new package during the Suzuka pre-race IRTA test and the ensuing Suzuka race weekend. The new Yamaha 'R series styled' YZR-M1 fairing sports a different, more aerodynamic design. It features a much narrower frontal area, improvements to the unique M1 flexible air-intake system, a hard-lined rear seat cowling, and a hand-made "snub-nosed" titanium exhaust system. Abe will use the previous-spec M1 bodywork and exhaust in South Africa.

Davide Brivio, Team Director for the Fortuna Yamaha Team, is hoping that the Welkom Grand Prix will bring better fortune to the team: "It was a disappointing start to the season", admitted the Italian, "and Carlos can do much better in Welkom compared to the result we got in Suzuka. It is good that we had a test already planned in Japan for the Monday and Tuesday following the race both for Carlos, and also for Norick to familiarise himself with the bike. Unfortunately the weather did not help us much there. Now we have to go to Welkom and get back into a position that we hoped we would be in.

"Of course Marco's accident in Suzuka was a big blow for us - I think he could have been really good there. We are now replacing him with Norick in Welkom, and I think that he has a chance to do well. He has spent the last months getting used to the four-stroke engine in Yamaha's testing team with a prototype M1.

"At the Suzuka test Carlos tested a new evolution of chassis and we are now considering whether he will use it in Welkom this weekend. I am confident that he has the capability at this circuit. We are also of course in regular contact with Marco, whose progress is better than we expected. I really hope to have him back with the team very soon."


The Phakisa circuit has developed a notorious reputation for being both bumpy and slippery - the latter a side effect of the area's flat and dusty surroundings. Combined, these two elements make setting up a 210 plus horsepower MotoGP machine uniquely difficult. Therefore the key to a successful result at this isolated venue is not outright horsepower, or an overly aggressive chassis geometry; rather a place on the podium hinges on a predictable power curve and a balanced, yet receptive suspension package.

With this in mind each of the Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Norick Abe - temporarily filling in for the injured Marco Melandri - are likely to opt for a chassis set-up that is initially plusher than would usually be expected for such a medium to high speed layout, in an effort to increase predictability and feel. Balancing the YZR-M1's rear ride-height, reducing compression damping and increasing the spring preload will reduce the likelihood of the bike's rear suspension unit squatting under power - otherwise there is the risk of understeer during the exit of corners. However as the times drop, with the increasing presence of a cleaner racing line, the cornering forces will build and will therefore require the need for increased spring weights along with firmer compression damping.

Possibly improving the overall balance and feel further for Checa will be the availability of the latest evolution of the M1's Deltabox frame, which he first sampled in Suzuka, following the opening round of the MotoGP World Championship. "Initial results indicate it offers improved rear wheel traction, increased predictability and greater braking stability," says YZR-M1 Project Leader Ichiro Yoda. "However further Again Checa's M1s will benefit from the improved aerodynamics of the more aggressive fairing, which he first sampled in Suzuka, while Abe will migrate from the prototype YZR-M1 he raced with at the first round to the 2003 spec machine, as used by Melandri.


Carlos Checa did not achieve the result he was hoping for at the Japanese Grand Prix three weeks ago. The Spaniard had a front row start and took the holeshot from the starting grid on his M1 but gradually slipped back through the pack to finish a disappointing tenth. He is hoping for a better race in Welkom this weekend and the fact that he likes the African circuit should be a help on his mission.

"Not a good start to the season at all," said Checa about the opening 2003 MotoGP round in Suzuka. "On all counts it was an unlucky race that no-one will forget. I now have to focus my attentions on Welkom and trying my best to improve our performance.

"My past performances at Welkom have not been so bad - I got a good result there in 2000, unfortunately I missed the race there in 2001 because I was injured in a training accident, and last year I finished fifth. The bike has changed so much since then that it's hard to tell how we will do this year but the package that we have is competitive, so we will see. I won't be happy until I am fighting for race wins."

The Welkom circuit suits Checa's riding style as one of its defining characteristics is its lack of grip. The surface is very slippery and Checa enjoys sliding the bike there, "Hopefully it will be dry in Welkom, it normally is. The track is especially tough on tyres and very exciting. One of my favourite corners is the fast right at the end of the back straight. I need to stay focused and calm now until the race.

"After the Suzuka GP Norick and I stayed on there for two days of testing. I tested a new chassis and am waiting to decided whether to use it in Welkom. After that I travelled to California to visit Wayne Rainey. We spent several days relaxing, I trained with a Yamaha motocross bike while Wayne rode in his go-kart. It gave me the chance to prepare mentally for the forthcoming races. It has left me in a good frame of mind for Welkom".


The Fortuna Yamaha Team's season opener was marred by the accident of Marco Melandri, whose fall during the Friday morning practice session in Suzuka forced him to miss the rest of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Melandri suffered a double fracture of his ankle and a small chipped fracture of the femur in the high-speed crash. Melandri was able to return to the Japanese circuit after just one night in a local hospital. The 250cc World Champion flew back to Italy the day after the race and has since received medical treatment from the Championship's Clinica Mobile doctors in Imola, close to his home town Ravenna. The medical staff are quite happy with his progress. Melandri will be unable to participate in this weekend's Africa's Grand Prix and no date has yet been set for a return to.

Meanwhile replacement rider Norick Abe has been busy since his home Japanese Grand Prix where he stepped in as Fortuna Yamaha Team replacement for Melandri. The 27-year old stayed on in Suzuka for a two day test and familiarised himself with the bike that he will race in Welkom. Despite bad weather conditions at the test Abe found the time valuable practice: "I wasn 't so happy with my result at the actual Suzuka Grand Prix but the good point is that I am going to get the chance to race again in Welkom", said the affable Japanese. "We only had about half a day of testing out of the two days afterwards because of the rain. That's not so long but I immediately had a good feeling on the 2003-spec M1."

Abe competed in last year's Africa's Grand Prix on the two-stroke Yamaha YZR500 and finished the race in seventh position. Welkom is not one of his favourite circuits but he thinks that the M1 will make all the difference: "I've never felt really comfortable at the Welkom circuit, I can't even explain why," explained Abe. "I hope that at this race I will get a good feeling and then it will become my favourite circuit! It will of course be fairly different riding a four-stroke bike there compared to a two-stroke. I will have more power, and it should be much easier. I quite like sliding the bike in Welkom, which is a really slippery circuit."


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Carlos Checa , Norifumi Abe , Wayne Rainey , Marco Melandri , Davide Brivio