Fortuna Yamaha Team Spanish GP preview

MotoGP heads to Europe for Spanish showdown This weekend will mark the start of the European ten race contingent of the MotoGP World Championship at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. The Jerez event is one of the most exciting and popular in...

MotoGP heads to Europe for Spanish showdown

This weekend will mark the start of the European ten race contingent of the MotoGP World Championship at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. The Jerez event is one of the most exciting and popular in the MotoGP calendar, last year luring an audience of no less than 201,418 during the three days of qualifying and racing. The party atmosphere amongst the spectators and traditionally clement weather makes this one of the most appealing motorsport events in the world.

Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa is always one of the main attractions in Jerez, being one of just two Spanish riders in the MotoGP class. Catalunya-born Checa currently lies in joint-eighth place in the World Championship and will try to improve that position this weekend on his Yamaha YZR-M1. After a tricky start to the year, finishing tenth at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka and ninth at the Africa's Grand Prix in Welkom two weeks ago, Checa is aiming to climb the podium again this weekend as he did at the Spanish Grand Prix three years ago.

Checa will be rejoined this weekend by his Fortuna Yamaha team-mate Marco Melandri, who has been out of action for the past two races due to leg injuries sustained during his first morning practice at the Japanese Grand Prix just over a month ago. Yamaha test rider Norick Abe stepped in as Melandri's replacement for both of the first two races of the season but now hands the baton back to Melandri who will compete in Jerez.

The MotoGP paddock moves on to Le Mans after Jerez for the French Grand Prix on May 25, then to the Italian Grand Prix in Mugello on June 8.

FORTUNA YAMAHA TEAM STRIVING FOR JEREZ PODIUM

The Fortuna Yamaha Team and its 8 tonnes of freight headed back to its Milan base in Italy last week where team members packed up yet again for their European mission. The team are no strangers to the Jerez circuit in southern Spain, having tested there three times during the winter for a total of nine days. Unfortunately wet weather conditions meant that only three of those nine days were beneficial for riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri to familiarise themselves to the Jerez circuit on their YZR-M1 machines.

The Yamaha four-stroke has changed a lot since it competed at Jerez in 2002, and Fortuna Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio has all confidence that the team, its bike and riders, are in a position to achieve a top result, "We were really unlucky with the weather in Jerez during our winter testing time there," said Brivio. "But when we did have some good weather, for only three of our days there, both Carlos and Marco's lap times were good.

"Carlos has not had a great start to the season and has not performed to his full potential. But we saw some improvements in Welkom already and we are working hard with him to improve his feeling on the bike, and hopefully Jerez will be the place this happens - it is always extra motivation for a rider at their home Grand Prix, and the atmosphere in Jerez is normally fantastic, Carlos has many fans there.

"We will be happy to have Marco back in Jerez but of course once again I would like to thank Norick for his great performance in Welkom two weeks ago. Obviously after just one month Marco's injuries are not 100% healed. However he feels strong enough to ride and it is important for him not to have too long away from the racing environment. He needs to take things slowly and not push himself too hard too soon."

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

Due to numerous hard braking areas, and countless camber changes, chassis balance will be the primary concern for the Fortuna Yamaha Team in Jerez. The front suspension will need to deal with the high braking loads while still offering movement when almost fully compressed, to ensure that the front forks absorb these bumps rather than only the front tyre. Increasing the spring rate will prevent the front of the motorcycle from diving too quickly under deceleration, while the fork compression damping will be set to allow enough high-speed movement to deal with the repetitive bumps.

"Now that we have a full season's development under our belts one of our primary concerns last year, which was the braking stability of the bike into the hairpins, should no longer be an issue," says YZR-M1 Project Leader Ichiro Yoda. "This is the result of a more neutral geometry provided by the 2003 Deltabox frame combined with an improved engine braking package than what we ran there in 2002."

Meanwhile the rear spring rate will be set slightly firmer to prevent the bike squatting under power through the high cornering forces, while overall feel will be ensured with less compression damping - aimed at helping riders gain the best drive off the positive cambered turns.

Melandri will also benefit from the more aggressive M1 fairing package, first used by his team-mate Checa at the Suzuka MotoGP. The new fairing offers better aerodynamics which has also had a positive effect on not only the top speed, but the M1's handling characteristics too.

'EL TORO' HOPES FOR SPANISH BOOST

Carlos Checa is hoping that a return to his native country and performing in front of the generally huge and enthusiastic Jerez crowd will give him the boost he needs to really start his 2003 campaign. Checa is now in his ninth season in the premier class. He has proved on numerous occasions that he has talent, speed and guts but has lacked a consistent run of results to take him to the number one spot. The affable Spaniard is not happy with his start to the season and believes that the expected crowd of 130,000 plus people at Jerez on Sunday will give him a boost.

"We definitely struggled in Japan," admitted Checa. "That carried over to the opening day in Welkom but on the Saturday I felt much happier with the bike and as a result I felt more comfortable. Unfortunately I just wasn't able to push as much as I wanted in the race.

"If I'm happy with the base on Friday in Jerez then I think we can have a good weekend. Everybody continues to work very hard and it's frustrating for all of us to finish tenth and ninth. I'm feeling very motivated now and I love racing in front of the Spanish fans. Jerez is a very special place and it makes you feel good to see so many people enjoying the party atmosphere. In the past we could hear the crowd during the race but they'll have to shout pretty loud to be heard above the M1 now!"

MELANDRI LOOKING FORWARD TO HIS RETURN TO MOTOGP

Italian youngster Marco Melandri is well on the road to recovery after his fall during the Friday morning practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix one month ago forced him to sit out the season's first two races. Melandri suffered a double fracture of his ankle and a small chipped fracture of the femur in the high-speed crash, as well as a broken nose. He flew back to Italy after Suzuka, where he has spent the past month in rehabilitation.

Although now a UK resident, Melandri is fortunate enough to have received medical treatment from the MotoGP Championship's Clinica Mobile doctors in Imola which is based close to his home town Ravenna. The Clinica Mobile staff have kept a close eye on Melandri during his recovery and along with Melandri's management, the Fortuna Yamaha Team, and Yamaha, they feel that he is now sufficiently recovered to make his return in Jerez.

"Now I don't feel too bad in general and my body condition is okay to ride again," said Melandri of his progress. "I would say my fitness level is about 60% right now but at this stage the best training is to ride the bike again. Since Suzuka I have been working a lot in physiotherapy, and this has been my only focus. I have stayed in Imola at my sister's house, and on Doctor Costa's advice I have been swimming and cycling for about six hours each day. After Suzuka I was hoping to be ready to ride in South Africa but then I chose not to race there because it would have been too risky.

"I watched the race in Welkom and was really sad because I was so far from the track. I tried to stay positive and convince myself that it was better to stay at home and to focus on working on my ankle and getting it better for Jerez. Anyway my leg has healed quicker than was expected and I cannot personally say exactly how well it is until I ride again. I rode a Yamaha R6 in Monza last week for a short time but Jerez will be like training again for me and I know that I must take things slowly, as if I'm starting all over again. Physically speaking, the muscles around my femur are still not perfect but the bone itself is okay. The main problem is my ankle but I'm lucky because I injured my right ankle and with the four-strokes you can use the rear brake a bit less if you choose to."

Melandri has had some productive pre-season testing time with the M1 at the Spanish circuit of Jerez. Although two of the Fortuna Yamaha Team's winter tests there were badly affected by rain, the 250cc World Champion had the chance at the IRTA test in February to accustom himself to the circuit with his four-stroke Yamaha machine, and set an impressive best lap time of 1'43.236 - the circuit's best lap was 1'42.193 set by Valentino Rossi in 2002.

This time around Melandri will benefit even more from a new aerodynamic fairing for his M1, which team-mate Checa has been using since Suzuka. The more aggressive Yamaha YZR-M1 fairing features a narrower frontal area, improvements to the unique M1 flexible air-intake system and a hard-lined rear seat cowling. Melandri is looking forward to the chance to ride at Jerez again, "I never liked the Jerez circuit particularly until I rode the M1 there this winter," said the Italian. "I prefer it much more with the four-stroke rather than the two-stroke because the engine braking helps me to turn into the fast corners. It rained a lot during our winter testing there but I finally got some good practice in during the IRTA test. I've never ridden particularly well there in my two-stroke days but I hope that will change. I will know after the practice sessions how strong I will be physically for the race. I think for sure it will be hard because I haven't been able to train properly since my accident in Suzuka."

-fyt-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Marco Melandri , Davide Brivio