French GP: Yamaha Team race report

MARLBORO YAMAHA MAKE 'HUGE PROGRESS' AT LE MANS Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa played a starring role in today's wet 'n' dry French Grand Prix at Le Mans. Benefiting from crucial improvements to the YZR-M1's ...

MARLBORO YAMAHA MAKE 'HUGE PROGRESS' AT LE MANS

Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa played a starring role in today's wet 'n' dry French Grand Prix at Le Mans. Benefiting from crucial improvements to the YZR-M1's computer-controlled engine-braking system, the pair ran up front until Checa tumbled out, leaving Biaggi to briefly lead before finishing third.

This was the best weekend so far for the mighty M1, with Checa and Biaggi qualifying second and third quickest, and Biaggi's bike the fastest in the race, clocking 297kmh on Le Mans' uphill start/finish straight, 2.2kmh faster than winner Valentino Rossi's Honda RCV.

"The bike looked okay here, we were more competitive," said Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "We didn't get the win but we were close to the winner. I hope this weekend will prove to be a restart for our team, just like Le Mans was last year when Max won and Carlos got second. We showed that the bike is fast and we've started to close the gap on the Honda, which is huge progress since the last race. The new parts for the engine-braking system made a big difference and we have a new chassis on the way for both riders for the next race at Mugello. The aim is to improve handling and turning, though Max and Carlos will start the Italian GP weekend with one new chassis and one existing chassis each, because we aren' t able to go testing before the event. Max's result was a real boost for the team and the factory, so my thanks go to everyone: our crew, the Yamaha engineers and Michelin too."

BIAGGI LEADS FRENCH GP, FINISHES THIRD

Max Biaggi scored a first podium finish with his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 in tricky conditions at Le Mans this afternoon. The Italian rode hard throughout, chasing the leading Honda duo of Valentino Rossi and Tohru Ukawa and moving ahead when drizzle began to fall at the top of the circuit. For several laps the trio were more than a second off their usual pace, Biaggi then slipping to second as Ukawa went in front. When heavier rain began to fall the race was red flagged, six laps short of full distance, Biaggi credited with third place, just 0.604 seconds behind winner Rossi.

"Maybe a win was too much to ask for today because our last race was a real struggle," smiled Biaggi, who had had a luckless start to the season, including an exclusion from the Spanish GP two weeks ago. "I'm very pleased with today's result, though it was a very difficult race with the rain coming and going and making the track very slippery in places. It was also great to follow Rossi and Ukawa, though they seemed to have an advantage in the slower corners and that's what we must work on next. I'm also pleased for Yamaha and I'd like to thank everyone within the factory and the team for their work.

CHECA OUT OF LUCK AGAIN

Carlos Checa was looking good for his second podium finish of the year until he crashed on gravel that had been scattered on to the Chemin aux Boeufs chicane by a rival's earlier off-track excursion. At the time the Marlboro Yamaha Team man had been shadowing team-mate Max Biaggi, Ukawa and Rossi, waiting for the race to develop before deciding on his late-race strategy.

"Rossi had slowed a little which allowed me and Max to close the gap," said a bitterly disappointed Checa after his second DNF in a row. "As I went to flick the bike right in the chicane I saw Max move a little, like he was avoiding something, but it was too late for me to change the line, so I hit the gravel and lost it. I never saw any warning flags, so I didn't know there was a problem at that corner. It was very bad luck, especially since everything had been going so well; the bike felt good and I felt comfortable. It's a real shame, but we must keep looking forward to the next race."

ROSSI WINS AGAIN TO EXTEND LEAD

Valentino Rossi won his third race of the year today, beating team-mate Tohru Ukawa by just 0.217 seconds. Starting from pole position, the Italian led the first half of the race before slipping to third as drizzle fell, then fighting back to take the lead just before the red flags came out. "The rain made that very difficult," said Rossi. "It only rained on one part of the track and some laps it was more slippery than others. I started to push again near the end and I was lucky to be ahead when the race was stopped."

Daijiro Kato (Honda) fell victim to the rain while chasing the leaders, tumbling spectacularly at the first chicane. He was unhurt.

RESULTS

1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA Team (RC211V) 34'22.335
2. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) Repsol HONDA Team (RC211V) +0.217
3. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team (YZR-M1) +0.604
4. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA d'Antin (YZR500) +1.701
5. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI (GSX-R) +8.464
6. Nobuatsu Aoki (JPN) PROTON Team KR (KR3) +10.212
7. Loris Capirossi (ITA) West HONDA Pons (NSR500) +12.437
8. Alex Barros (BRA) West HONDA Pons (NSR500) +15.231
9. Regis Laconi (FRA) MS APRILIA Racing (RSV3) +17.155
10. Jeremy McWilliams (GBR) PROTON Team KR (KR3) +21.847

DNF: CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team (YZR-M1), crashed out on lap 9

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) 95
2. Tohru Ukawa (JPN) 61
3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) 45
4. Norick Abe (JPN) 43
5. Daijiro Kato (JPN) 39
6. Alex Barros (BRA) 29
7. Nobuatsu Aoki (JPN) 28
8. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) 27
9. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) 23
10. Akira Ryo (JPN) 20

-myt-

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Jeremy McWilliams , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Kenny Roberts Jr. , Nobuatsu Aoki , Laconi Régis , Davide Brivio
Teams Williams