FRENCH GRAND PRIX, LE MANS First Qualifying, Friday May 17 2002 LATEST IMPROVEMENTS LIFT MARLBORO YAMAHA MEN Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi were back with a bang at Le Mans today, Checa taking provisional pole position...
FRENCH GRAND PRIX, LE MANS
First Qualifying, Friday May 17 2002
LATEST IMPROVEMENTS LIFT MARLBORO YAMAHA MEN
Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi were back with a bang at Le Mans today, Checa taking provisional pole position and Biaggi clocking fourth-quickest time. Their impressive performances suggest that the YZR-M1 is very much on the pace following last week's team tests at Mugello, Italy, where the pair evaluated new developments for the M1's innovative electronically controlled hydraulic engine-braking system.
"We are starting to see some of the benefits of the factory's recent work," said Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "Everyone has been working very hard and I have to thank the riders, the team and Yamaha's engineering staff. We've improved the engine-braking system with new software and we've also made plenty of other small improvements. Of course, we must keep working to maintain this level of progress, and we already have more new parts planned for upcoming races. This track was good for the team last year, it started our championship challenge, and we hope for the same this weekend."
CHECA QUICKEST DESPITE DRIZZLE
Carlos Checa showed off his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1's new-found speed by heading both this morning's unofficial session and this afternoon's opening qualifier. The hard-riding Spaniard took provisional pole in the final minute of the session, outpacing World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Honda) by 0.093 seconds. That lap was especially impressive considering that drizzle had begun to fall from rain clouds that had threatened throughout the session.
"I got some spots of rain on my visor and I could see some marshals waving yellow and red (low grip) flags but the grip felt good, so I was able to keep pushing," he said. "I now feel really confident on the bike. Even though we didn't have much dry time at Mugello we managed to improve the engine-braking system and our chassis set-up. Now I feel comfortable 'backing' the bike into corners, so I can keep braking deep into the turns with the front and rear, which is what I like to do. We've also worked on suspension and spring balance, the suspension is softer than usual, but that 's normal for this track. Fridays haven't been good for us recently, so this is a great morale booster. Everyone knows we've had some problems but we're now heading in the right direction, we just need to keep working."
BIAGGI ON PROVISIONAL FRONT ROW
Max Biaggi was an ultra-close fourth quickest this afternoon, just 0.238 seconds off his team-mate. Like Checa, the Italian was enjoying the extra performance unleashed by new developments and software for his YZR-M1's engine-braking system. The Marlboro Yamaha Team rider also clocked the highest top speed of the afternoon - at 296.5kmh - which he partially attributed to this latest series of improvements.
"This shows that we are working in the right direction," said Biaggi who won last year's French 500 GP. "The changes to the engine-braking system make the bike more stable on the brakes which means I don't have to brake so early and that makes a big difference to my lap times. If I can brake five metres later for every corner I reckon that's better than having ten more horsepower. The engine-braking system also has an effect on top speed, because I can now ride through corners faster and that makes me faster down the straights.
"It's great not be so far behind on the first day, like we've been at a few races this year, because it means I can work on perfecting the set-up tomorrow. I think we have some more ideas to make things even better here, I just don't know by how much."
ROSSI SECOND, NAKANO INSPIRED THIRD
MotoGP leader Valentino Rossi, who's started all three GPs so far this year from pole, had to be content with second today, just ahead of Shinya Nakano (Yamaha). "We need to improve traction out of the corners and the bike was also hard to turn," said the Italian. "We made it better but then the rain came." Nakano, riding for the French Tech 3 team, was fastest 500, just three hundredths shy of Rossi. The session continues the current trend for ultra-close grids. In fact, if the times stay as close tomorrow, Sunday's French GP grid will be the closest in the 54-year history of GP racing's premier class.
FRONT TWO ROWS
1. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team (YZR-M1) 1'36.591
2. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA Team (RC211V) 1'36.684
3. Shinya Nakano (JPN) Gauloises YAMAHA Tech 3 (YZR500) 1'36.714
4. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team (YZR-M1) 1'36.829
5. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons (NSR500) 1'36.915
6. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) Repsol HONDA Team (RC211V) 1'36.939
7. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA d'Antin (YZR500) 1'36.961
8. Olivier Jacque (FRA) Gauloises YAMAHA Tech 3 (YZR500) 1'37.212