Fortuna Yamaha team Suzuka GP preview

MotoGP World Championship blasts into action. The 2003 MotoGP World Championship will commence this weekend at Suzuka in Japan. No less than eight manufacturers and 24 MotoGP riders will take their places on the starting grid on Sunday 6th...

MotoGP World Championship blasts into action.

The 2003 MotoGP World Championship will commence this weekend at Suzuka in Japan. No less than eight manufacturers and 24 MotoGP riders will take their places on the starting grid on Sunday 6th April to start the championship that will span eight months and visit 13 countries.

Fortuna Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri are looking forward to the challenge that faces them on their Yamaha YZR-M1s. It will be Spaniard Checa's second year riding the Yamaha four-stroke in the premier motorcycle racing class in the world. For Italian teammate and 250cc World Champion Melandri, this is the moment he has always dreamed of as he contests his first race on a MotoGP bike. Both riders have been working hard through the winter to develop the M1 at a host of private European tests. The testing programme concluded in a series of group IRTA tests, the last of which took place last weekend in Suzuka.

The MotoGP championship will reach a dizzy height of competition this weekend. The mix of Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Aprilia, Ducati and Proton machinery will make this race the fastest and no doubt most entertaining Grand Prix the sport has ever seen. The Japanese race is the first of sixteen races in total; after this weekend the MotoGP circus moves to the Welkom circuit in South Africa before the European rounds commence in Jerez, Spain on 11th May.


The Italian-based Fortuna Yamaha Team is looking forward to its first race, having spent the last four months completing a series of European winter tests. Both riders and the team have worked hard to improve the overall set-up of the bikes, despite some disappointing rainy weather affecting valuable track time. Both of Carlos Checa's bikes were equipped early on in the test schedule with Yamaha's fuel-injection system, which the Fortuna Yamaha rider took to immediately. Melandri used the same system for the first time last month and also noticed the benefits straight away.

Team Director Davide Brivio is looking forward to the challenge that the year ahead will bring.

"I have high expectations this year for both of our riders," says Brivio. "Last year in Suzuka Carlos qualified for the front row and despite it being a wet race he made it onto the podium. We expect Carlos to be up there fighting for the win this year. I think he can reach the podium even in the dry, as Yamaha have improved the total YZR-M1 package since this time last year. Carlos' performance at the recent Barcelona IRTA test was a little disappointing but the test before that was very positive for him. Hopefully he can be back to his normal form for Suzuka.

"Marco's winter testing has been very good but he obviously still has a lot to learn. I'm expecting a surprise from him at some point but maybe it's too early in Suzuka. It will be his first MotoGP race and we look forward to giving him the chance to learn from it. Suzuka will be a proper test for Marco and we are hoping for him to finish somewhere in the top ten, that would be very nice for him."

The Yamaha YZR-M1 won two MotoGP races last year despite a difficult time during the beginning of the four-stroke project. The machine also took second place in the 2002 Constructors' Championship. Brivio is certain that the machine is now strong enough to take on the other manufacturers head on in 2003.

"The M1 package itself is now very competitive and we expect it to be one of the best bikes. As our top rider Carlos certainly has a chance to go for the win on this bike. We are constantly trying to improve the package, and Carlos tested a new fairing to improve aerodynamics at the Suzuka IRTA test last weekend. We are now seriously considering using the new fairing for the Grand Prix. The M1 package was already strong at the end of last season, and now we are looking forward to checking it against our competitors in a race situation.

"It would be fantastic for us to win this first race for Yamaha at their home Grand Prix in Japan. Of course the other Japanese manufacturers will be under pressure for exactly the same reason, so it might not be that easy!"


Suzuka is a circuit that favours a good handling bike and a talented rider - Carlos Checa proved this with a front row start and a podium finish in the inaugural four-stroke championship race last year. The Fortuna Yamaha Team now heads to Suzuka with the latest generation of the YZR-M1. Although outright power is often useful at the unique figure-eight circuit a bike that can hold its line while carrying high corner speed is a must. This is especially the case through the opening series of sweeping 140kmh second gear corners, where one mistake - running wide on the exit of the turn - will result in a loss of time through the following three or so bends.

This is one area in which YZR-M1 Project Leader Ichiro Yoda is confident the Fortuna Yamaha Team machines will perform well, with much of pre-season testing and winter development focussed on producing a neutral balanced chassis.

"The YZR-M1's chassis is quite good now, I am very happy with the progress we have made over the winter tests," says Yoda. "We have a base set-up that we are using for almost every circuit now, with only minor adjustments needed. The key reason is a more balanced chassis geometry, which offers a neutral feel and improved traction on both ends. This gives the riders more confidence to get on the power earlier, even while exploring the limits of the tyre's side-grip, and it encourages deeper braking."

This improved balance is the result of the new cylinder/crankcase layout, which, combined with the engine's repositioning within the chassis, has provided not only improved rear wheel traction under power but also front-end traction. The latter is provided by the dynamic weight transfer characteristics of the new chassis design, offering increased braking stability along with a neutral turning characteristic. This is then fine-tuned with the correct combination of rear spring weight, damping and rear shock suspension linkage ratios - a crucial factor in ensuring the ability to hold a tight line in preparation for the next series of linked turns. This may be adjusted slightly for the new circuit modifications, which have taken place entering the final chicane, but the overall effects are expected to be minimal on chassis set-up. Meanwhile lap times are likely to be reduced by around one second due to the new layout.


Carlos Checa is feeling confident and positive about this weekend's opening round. He had a very up-and-down 2002 season aboard his Yamaha YZR-M1. Despite one pole position, four podium finishes and many races where he was among the race leaders, Checa did not achieve his goal of a MotoGP victory. However his season started in fine form at last year's Suzuka Grand Prix where he took fourth position on the starting grid and went on to take third place in the wet race.

"My qualifying in Suzuka was good last year, and so was my race," said the Spaniard. "For me it is one of the best tracks. It is long, technical and fast, with slow turns. They have modified the last section of the track which we were able to get used to during the two days of last weekend's test. I seem to get more problems at slower tracks, which this isn't, so I'm quite confident for Suzuka.

"I was disappointed with my performance at the Barcelona IRTA test a couple of weeks ago as I just couldn't stay on the pace. We spent winter testing setting up the fuel-injection system and adjusting the chassis and overall set-up. In Barcelona we tried to change the set-up again but we have now gone back to our original base set-up from the tests before then."

Checa thinks that Yamaha's YZR-M1 is well suited to the Japanese circuit, in both wet and dry conditions. "Last year at Suzuka I was the fastest rider in the first turn, and on the longer sections of this track the M1 works really well," explained Checa. "You don't need to brake or accelerate too hard here, and this suits the M1. Also our top speed is now very good so I don't need to worry about that.

"I'm not sure what the weather will be like this weekend but wet or dry I think we can be competitive. This year all the riders on the grid have the capacity to get good results, so you can expect anything from anyone. I will just stay quiet now until the race, keep the bike's base set-up, and take it from there."


Nine World Champions will be on the starting grid at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, and Marco Melandri will be one of them. The 20-year-old won the 2002 250cc World Championship, and now competes for the first time in the premier MotoGP class. Melandri has put in consistent and quick lap times during winter testing, and is now eager to put that experience into practice this weekend.

"I'm so excited now," enthused Melandri, "I've been waiting a long time for this, basically since my childhood. It has always been my dream to race in the MotoGP class, and it's about to happen. I can't say what my rhythm will be in the race with another 24 riders and bikes. It will be so different to testing."

Melandri suffered a minor injury at a test in Portugal in February when he took a tumble that resulted in a dislocated shoulder blade. The Italian is now feeling fit again and looking forward to racing at one of his favourite circuits.

"My shoulder is quite good, it's not perfect but better than it was in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago. I have been training a lot since then to strengthen it," said Melandri. "I love Suzuka circuit - it's a very precise track, and the fast corners are not really fast at all. I enjoy racing there but have never been on the podium there before. I had the chance to check out the track from a MotoGP perspective during the weekend's IRTA test here, and I like it.

"Basically I enjoy racing much more than testing. Although I'm quite pleased with my performance during our winter testing, I really can't wait to race again. Both of my bikes are now set up with Yamaha's fuel-injection system, and this along with the other set-up changes that my crew have made over the winter, have given me a package with which I feel comfortable and confident."


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Carlos Checa , Marco Melandri , Davide Brivio