Fortuna Yamaha Team's MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri put in an astonishing performance during the start of only his second MotoGP World Championship round to qualify the Yamaha YZR-M1 on a provisional front row start for the French Grand Prix, which...
Fortuna Yamaha Team's MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri put in an astonishing performance during the start of only his second MotoGP World Championship round to qualify the Yamaha YZR-M1 on a provisional front row start for the French Grand Prix, which takes place at the Le Mans circuit on May 23. The relaxed 20-year-old, and 2002 250cc World Champion, showed impressive maturity and consistency to set the fourth fastest time during the opening Friday qualifier, with a fastest lap time of 1'36.161. He also kicked off proceedings in the morning free practice with the second fastest time, placing himself behind defending MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda).
With the weather looking questionable for tomorrow's final qualifier Melandri's performance today could see the young Italian start his first MotoGP race from the front row on Sunday. Despite the solid start to the weekend Melandri was confident that his qualifying time, only 0.953 seconds off Rossi's 1'35.208 benchmark and provisional pole time, could have been reduced further had it not been for a small tumble in the final few minutes of the session. With time remaining for one flying lap Melandri looked set to do just that when he lost the front of the M1 entering the Le Mans back chicane.
Fellow Yamaha competitor Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team) eventually ended the session second fastest with 1'35.985, although the Brazilian had initially set the pace before a small tumble in the closing stages prevented him from mounting a comeback to answer Rossi's retort. While Loris Capirossi claimed the third fastest time aboard the V-four Ducati with a 1'36.019.
"I went off at the end because I tried to take the curve tight but closed it too much", said the 250cc World Champion. "It was an error but still I'm very happy to be on the front row. I feel physically better here than Jerez and I hope to keep improving - my leg feels a bit tired but it's getting better all the time. I quite like this track and the Yamaha bikes go well here. We have a good braking system that is very precise and stable and the bike feels generally great, I like it a lot. I think that our test in Mugello last week was very helpful for my physical condition. The only thing now is the weather for the rest of the weekend, as this is a slippery track in the wet. But I suppose I have an advantage because I started riding the M1 in wet conditions, so hopefully I will be okay."
After an inauspicious start to the French Grand Prix this morning when Carlos Checa slid off the Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1 in the free practice session, the Spaniard returned to set the sixth fastest time during the opening qualifier this afternoon, with a best lap time of 1'36.240. Although consistently quick on the 4180m circuit - regularly featuring in the top five during today - Checa is still confident that there is room for improvement, and that this will show on the time sheets if the French weather holds out for the second qualifying session tomorrow.
"This afternoon we used both bikes, the old and the new chassis, and at the end we had the chance to finish on the front row but I couldn't improve my lap time in the last few minutes," admitted the Spaniard. "I only had the chance for one fast lap at the end but didn't get what I wanted. Anyway it' s a positive outcome, and let's see what happens tomorrow. The weather forecast is for rain tomorrow and also for Sunday. I would prefer to continue working in the dry but you can't choose the weather! At the moment I feel that the new chassis has good potential so I would like to continue working with it."
The Fortuna Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio was very satisfied with both riders' performances today, "Of course we are very pleased and we feel we're generally improving," said Brivio. "I am happy to see Marco on provisional front row, even though we know his condition is not 100% perfect. He was fourth this afternoon and second this morning so he has had a consistent day.
"Carlos was quite busy checking and testing things, and at the end he just missed one good lap. He is in sixth place and on the provisional second row so he should be okay for the race in this position. We have another day tomorrow so this has been a very good start for the weekend. It might rain tomorrow so that could create different challenges but at least we have a good dry base."
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'35.208
2. Alex Barros (BRA) Gauloises YAMAHA Team 1'35.985
3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'36.019
4. MARCO MELANDRI (ITA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'36.161
6. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'36.240