Fortuna Yamaha rider Carlos Checa overcame an unfortunate final qualifying incident with his team-mate Marco Melandri in today's Sepang action, claiming a second place front row start for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. The Fortuna Yamaha pair ...
Fortuna Yamaha rider Carlos Checa overcame an unfortunate final qualifying incident with his team-mate Marco Melandri in today's Sepang action, claiming a second place front row start for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. The Fortuna Yamaha pair collided YZR-M1 machines in the halfway stage of the hour-long session and slid into the gravel trap. Unhurt but somewhat stunned, both riders were able to return to the pits and get back on track with 20 minutes of the session to go. This was just enough for Checa to produce a string of front row worthy lap times before finally claiming the second fastest time of the day of 2'02.885.
Despite the punishing heat and astonishing pace of the pack, both Checa and defending MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda, 2'02.480), were the only two riders able to break into the 2'02 bracket. Both front runners demolished Max Biaggi's 2002 pole performance of 2'04.925. Makoto Tamada (Honda, 2'03.138) took the third spot ahead of fourth placed Max Biaggi (Honda, 2'03.254).
Checa focused his efforts today on a suspension and tyre combination to endure tomorrow's main event. The Spaniard used race tyres in the early part of the session and was running at race pace until the mishap with Melandri, who had just left the pits and was on his out lap. With a vast speed difference between them, Checa misjudged the gap and hit Melandri side on, for which he apologised immediately at the close of the session.
"First of all I want to apologise to Marco for the incident," said Checa. "I was on race tyres and had a good rhythm, and saw some riders slowing down, and Marco was one of them. I didn't expect him to be in my line because I thought he had seen me coming a few corners earlier. He hadn't, and I just couldn't avoid him. Fortunately he is okay and hopefully he can still do well tomorrow.
"I am really pleased with my lap time today, which is a personal best. I wasn't expecting to go that fast. I have felt comfortable with this set-up not only in Motegi but also here where we have gradually made some small adjustments. This is a great boost for the team, and I want to thank them for their hard work."
Checa's crew chief Antonio Jimenez was delighted with his rider's best qualifying performance of the year so far, "We kept Carlos' Motegi set-up here because the bike ran well there, even though we did not have the opportunity to race there. We have fine-tuned it a little to find a better suspension balance, but the key has been not making too many changes. Thanks to Michelin's efforts our tyre choice was spot on today. I'm really impressed with his time, which is a whole 2.2 seconds faster than last year."
Unlike his Fortuna Yamaha Team-mate, Marco Melandri was unable to find a chassis balance to overcome his lack of feeling through the third section of the Sepang track. The young Italian intends to use tomorrow's warm-up to find a last minute solution.
"To be honest I would rather forget about today," said a downcast Melandri. "I was in front of Carlos and didn't know he was coming, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. At first I thought I had really hurt my shoulder, the one that has caused me problems ever since I dislocated it in Estoril in February. But now it actually feels okay and I'm sure it will be fine for tomorrow. I'm having difficulties because I don't feel that I can get the power down efficiently because of a lack of grip, even when I'm braking. We have a lot of work to do this evening to improve my grip level and overall feeling."
Team Director Davide Brivio commented on the day's events as follows: "A great day for Carlos but we also had a very unfortunate misunderstanding between our riders when they clashed on the track. The main thing is both of them are okay, and Carlos apologised to Marco. Congratulations to Carlos for such a great lap time, and to all the team as usual for their hard work."
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 2'02.480
2. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 2'02.885
3. Makoto Tamada (JPN) Pramac HONDA 2'03.138
4. Max Biaggi (ITA) Camel Pramac Pons HONDA 2'03.254
14. MARCO MELANDRI (ITA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 2'04.832