French GP: Yamaha Team qualifying report

MARLBORO YAMAHA M1's BEST-EVER GRID PERFORMANCE Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi played a starring role in this afternoon's enthralling final qualifying session at Le Mans, qualifying a superb second and third quickest for...


Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi played a starring role in this afternoon's enthralling final qualifying session at Le Mans, qualifying a superb second and third quickest for tomorrow's French GP.

The pair were in brilliant form as the sun came out at the legendary French venue, Checa twice snatching pole from Valentino Rossi (Honda) and ending the session a tantalising 0.076 seconds behind the series leader. Biaggi was also flying, ending the day just 0.071 seconds off his team-mate. This is the M1's best-ever qualifying performance and the first time both riders have made the front row together. Checa qualified fourth in Japan, Biaggi fourth in South Africa.

"I'm very happy, everyone has been working so hard and things are now going well for us," said YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda, who has been returning to Japan after each race to continue M1 development. Last week he returned with new parts for the bike's radical electronically controlled engine-braking system which the riders tested at Mugello in Italy. "This is the area we have especially been working on and this is why both our riders can now do good lap times. Also, this track is good for Yamaha's chassis. Last year Max and Carlos got first and second here and our set-up info from that weekend helped us get the best chassis settings today. People say this is a Yamaha track because it's a 'heavy braking' circuit but in fact that isn't the case because there are a lot of downhill corner entries, so riders can't brake so hard. Now I'm looking forward to the race, both our riders times' were consistent today and thanks to Michelin both have good tyre choices."


Carlos Checa continued his awesome Le Mans form today, battling with Valentino Rossi for pole position throughout a thrilling final qualifying session. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man was ahead with just one minute to go, then Rossi squeezed ahead by a fraction. Fastest yesterday, Checa is confident that he will be fighting for the YZR-M1's first victory in tomorrow's race.

"I feel more comfortable on the bike, that's why I'm able to ride fast," said Checa who has been ultra quick and super consistent throughout the past two days. "We've been working very hard to improve the engine-braking system, so now I'm able to ride into corners more consistently and with more control and therefore faster. That's why I was able to fight for pole, like I did in Japan, and that's why we will be able to fight for victory tomorrow; I think the race will be very open. This is also a good track for our chassis."


Max Biaggi was delighted with his second front-row start of the season, just 0.177 seconds shy of pole position. Like team-mate Checa the Marlboro Yamaha Team man is making the most of engine braking system developments introduced during the team's two-day test session at Mugello last week. Biaggi's bike is the fastest, clocking 295.2kmh, 2kmh quicker than Rossi's RCV.

"This is a huge improvement from the previous Grand Prix, thanks to the new parts we received ten days ago," said Biaggi, who outpaced Rossi's team-mate Tohru Ukawa by 0.030 seconds. "The improvements in engine braking make the bike better in every way, so we can now use the machine how we like to use it. We weren't able to ride like this until we got these parts and the great thing is that we can now continue working to make even more progress. I was losing some time in the third intermediate, but we've an idea of how to improve on that for tomorrow. We're certainly more competitive now but winning will still be difficult."


Valentino Rossi took his fourth-successive pole position today, but this is the hardest he's had to fight all year. The times were incredibly close, with less than two tenths of a second covering the front row and an all-time record of 2.215 seconds covering the entire 20-rider grid. "Today was difficult because the times are so close," said the Italian. "And I think tomorrow will also be very difficult because the Yamaha has improved so much; it will be a hard fight."

French star and 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Jean-Michel Bayle returned to GP action today, replacing injured Yamaha rider Garry McCoy. The former Supercross king last rode GPs in 1999 and qualified 18th today.

1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA Team 1'36.046
2. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'36.122
3. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'36.193
4. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) Repsol HONDA Team 1'36.223
5. Daijiro Kato (JPN) Fortuna HONDA Gresini 1'36.349
6. Jeremy McWilliams (GBR) PROTON Team KR 1'36.507
7. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons1'36.515
8. Tetsuya Harada (JPN) Pramac HONDA Racing Team 1'36.525


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Garry McCoy , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Jeremy McWilliams , Tohru Ukawa , Tetsuya Harada
Teams Williams