French GP: Yamaha Team preview

French Grand Prix Le Mans May 17/18/19 2002 CHECA & BIAGGI START AFRESH IN FRANCE This weekend the Marlboro Yamaha Team returns to Le Mans, scene of the squad's brilliant one-two triumph in last May's French 500 GP. That race announced the ...

French Grand Prix
Le Mans
May 17/18/19 2002

CHECA & BIAGGI START AFRESH IN FRANCE

This weekend the Marlboro Yamaha Team returns to Le Mans, scene of the squad's brilliant one-two triumph in last May's French 500 GP. That race announced the team's return to form after a difficult start to the 2001 season, and riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi hope that the legendary French motorsport venue will bring a similar boost to their fortunes this year after an up-and-down start to the new era of four-stroke MotoGP racing.

Although Checa enjoyed excellent results in his first two races on the YZR-M1 four-stroke and Biaggi proved his speed on the bike with a front-row start at round two, both men are looking for extra performance from the all-new inline four. To that end the team travelled to Mugello last week to evaluate new parts for the M1's electronically controlled engine-braking system but poor weather prevented conclusive testing. Back in Japan Yamaha are working flat-out on further improvements to their MotoGP bike, with further engine and chassis upgrades due soon.

Le Mans is the fourth round of the new-look MotoGP World Championship and the second event in Europe after the 'flyaway' start to the year in Japan and South Africa. The MotoGP circus stays on the Continent until September and October when four more 'flyaways' precede the season finale at Valencia, Spain, on November 3.

CHECA AIMS FOR PODIUM RETURN

Carlos Checa has had an impressive start to the MotoGP's new age of four-stroke racing. A brilliant third at the season-opening Japanese GP and a hard-ridden fifth in South Africa last month, he was running an excellent sixth in Spain two weeks ago when his bike stopped just a few corners from the flag. Now he comes to Le Mans hoping that upgrade parts for his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 will help him to get back on to the podium.

"The team is doing a great job at the moment and we'll be aiming to continue working to improve the bike at Le Mans," says Checa who last year finished a rousing second in France, riding a YZR500 two-stroke. "We know what we need to do to improve the bike and we had new parts for the engine-braking system when we were at Mugello last week. But the rain stopped us doing any serious testing, so we'll have to try the parts during practice at Le Mans and see if they help. Braking is very important at Le Mans because there are so many hairpins. The other performance factor we need to improve is chassis balance. We are trying to shift the bike away from its character, which is for the rear tyre to grip so much that it pushes the front. At the moment we are working to improve in this area by finding a better compromise between chassis, suspension and tyres, so I'm really looking forward to trying the new chassis when it comes.

"They've changed the first hairpin at Le Mans, so it'll be interesting to see how that affects the lap. My favourite part is the final section of the esses and the double right, it reminds me a little of Calafat back in Spain, very tight and twisty. You have to work a lot through that section, using your body weight to help get the bike steered as quick as possible."

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio hopes that Checa will have a great weekend at Le Mans. "Carlos has had three good races so far this year, it was just the last few corners at Jerez that weren't so lucky for him," says Brivio. "I look forward to him achieving another good performance at Le Mans. And I hope this race can be the same to us as it was last year - the start of a comeback."

BIAGGI - ABOUT TIME FOR SOME LUCK

Max Biaggi won a glorious victory last year at Le Mans, a hard-fought success that kickstarted his challenge for the final 500 World Championship. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man won a further two GPs aboard his YZR500 two-stroke to finish the series second overall. This year Biaggi has embarked on a new challenge, switching to the mighty new YZR-M1, Yamaha's 200 horsepower four-stroke for the new-look MotoGP World Championship.

So far this year Biaggi hasn't had a lot of luck but the Italian hopes he can turn things around at Le Mans, just as he did last May. Biaggi commenced GP racing's new era with a fall in April's rain-lashed Japanese GP season-opener, then finished ninth in South Africa after clutch problems slowed his getaway from the front row of the grid. A fortnight ago in Spain he was excluded from the results after failing to see the somewhat tiny trackside signal board ordering him to come into pit lane for a ten-second stop-and-go penalty imposed for jumping the start from the second row of the grid. Race direction later agreed that the signal board was too small and are planning to change the system for alerting to stop-and-goes. This change will come to late for Biaggi, however.

"I've not had a lot of luck so far this season, that's for sure," says Biaggi, who like team-mate Carlos Checa is racing a four-stroke for the first time in his career. "We also know that we have to work hard to make our bike better. At the moment we're doing the best we can with what we've got, while waiting for the factory to give us some big improvements. At the moment my main concern is engine braking because I know my lap times will improve if I can increase my speed into corners, which is why it's a shame that rain prevented us from testing new parts for the engine-braking system at Mugello. At the last few races we haven't been in with a chance of winning so things are a little difficult for us but we just need time.

"I think Le Mans could be quite tough for us this year. I've a nice memory of my win there last season. It's an okay kind of track, very tight and very technical, so you have to be very precise with your riding."

This weekend Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio just hopes that Biaggi can have his first proper race of the 2002 season. "Max has had so much bad luck this year that he hasn't even had a real race so far," says the Italian. "He deserves a change this weekend."

WHAT THE TEAM SAYS

Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"There are two new corners at Le Mans this year, because the first hairpin has been replaced by a fast left and a long right," says Jimenez. "I think this is good for the track because there were too many hairpins before. Last year we had a bad result at Jerez, then a great result at Le Mans, so I'm optimistic we can have a good weekend in France. At the moment it seems that the bike is very sensitive to changes in track conditions, so we have to work at finding a good base set-up."

Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"You always look forward, that's what you have to do in racing," says Fanali. "We hope that the new parts we have for the engine-braking system may help us to increase our performance at Le Mans. I really feel that if we can improve Max's speed into corners we will break through a significant barrier because when a rider is slow into a corner, he will be slow all the way through the corner. We should also have new engine and chassis parts soon, so I hope we can really start moving forward from there."

THE TRACK

Legendary for its 24-hour races, Le Mans has been hosting World Championship GPs on and off since 1969. The Bugatti circuit, very different from the much longer 24-hour car track, returned to the GP calendar in 1999 after an absence of four years, during which time the French GP was run at Circuit Paul Ricard in Provence. Since '99 the event has built a huge following in bike-mad France, with tens of thousands of bikers making the two-hour trip to the Sarthe from Paris.

Le Mans underwent safety modifications before the 1999 GP, partly as a result of Alberto Puig's injurious turn-one crash during practice for the 1995 French GP. The daunting right hander was tightened and the Musee left-hander was also modified to lower speeds. Further modifications have been carried out for this year's event.

The track's character is very stop-and-go, with plenty of slow turns where braking and acceleration performance are primordial. Riders and their engineers therefore concentrate on honing their machines' stability during braking, as well as improving rear-end traction for the numerous hairpin exits.

Legendary for its 24-hour races, Le Mans has been hosting World Championship GPs on and off since 1969. The Bugatti circuit, very different from the much longer 24-hour car track, returned to the GP calendar in 1999 after an absence of four years, during which time the French GP was run at Circuit Paul Ricard in Provence. Since '99 the event has built a huge following in bike-mad France, with tens of thousands of bikers making the two-hour trip to the Sarthe from Paris.

Le Mans
4.180km/2.598 miles

Lap record
New circuit layout

-myt-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Davide Brivio