MALAYSIAN TROPICAL HEAT BECKONS MOTOGP Round fourteen of the MotoGP World Championship carries the Fortuna Yamaha Team straight from Japan to the humid skies of Malaysia this weekend. This is just a fleeting visit, however, for the over a ...
MALAYSIAN TROPICAL HEAT BECKONS MOTOGP
Round fourteen of the MotoGP World Championship carries the Fortuna Yamaha Team straight from Japan to the humid skies of Malaysia this weekend. This is just a fleeting visit, however, for the over a thousand-strong MotoGP paddock, as they will journey directly onward to Australia after the Sepang race on Sunday. The Malaysian contingent takes its toll on riders and mechanics not only because it is sandwiched back-to-back with two other races, but also due to the swelteringly clammy conditions that they must work in. During last year's Sepang weekend temperatures soared up to 36 degrees and the track surface reached an incredible 45 degrees.
Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri hope to be able to adjust immediately to the muggy location. The Fortuna Yamaha pair had a disappointing start to the Pacific Grand Prix in Motegi last weekend. A first turn crash involving Suzuki rider John Hopkins and Ducati's Troy Bayliss forced Fortuna Yamaha rider Carlos Checa off the track and out of the race. Checa's team-mate Marco Melandri was also involved in the incident, forced off his racing line and onto the trackside gravel. The young Italian got back on track and despite having been relegated to 19th position on the opening lap, made a determined comeback in the 24-lap race to finish a respectable sixth. Melandri's result was altered to fifth place soon afterwards, however, due to a separate incident between Honda riders Makoto Tamada and Sete Gibernau. Tamada clashed fairings with Gibernau on the last lap and the Japanese rider was disqualified shortly after the podium ceremony.
Fortuna Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio considers the Malaysian Grand Prix to be one of the most demanding events of the season, not only for his riders and mechanics but also for Yamaha's YZR-M1.
"It always seems like the longest race weekend of the year because of the incredible heat," says the Italian boss. "The riders have to be extremely careful not to dehydrate as they get so hot in their leathers, the mechanics can barely lift a finger without dripping with sweat, and as for the bikes . ! The track temperature gets so high that it's hard on tyres, especially the rear, and along with our supplier Michelin we have to manage the tyre life as best as we can.
"Neither of our riders has ridden here for a year, as during the winter we only tested in Europe, whereas some of the other teams came here. Carlos and Marco will need to use their practice sessions as well as possible to get used to the track again. The track has a good mixture of high-speed corners and straights, and obviously the M1 likes Sepang as it was the winning machine here last year. That, along with our recently improved engine, should give both riders further confidence for this weekend."
As one of the longest circuits on the Grand Prix calendar, the Sepang circuit also has the longest-lasting lap of all sixteen tracks. Its super-modern facilities and proximity to Kuala Lumpur airport make the Malaysia race popular with the MotoGP paddock, despite the heat. After next weekend's Australian round in Phillip Island the championship concludes back in Europe at the Valencia circuit in Spain on 2 December.
CHECA TARGETS POINTS LADDER IN SEPANG
After a bitterly disappointing end to last weekend's Pacific Grand Prix, Carlos Checa is already focusing on this weekend's challenge. The thirty-year-old rider displayed a good pace all weekend in Motegi and even featured on provisional pole for some time during Friday's session, only to end the race prematurely as a result of an incident beyond his control when knocked out by other riders on the first lap. The Spaniard currently lies eighth in the championship standings and is desperate to climb the points ladder significantly at Sepang this weekend.
"I had quite a frustrating time in Sepang last year because I had problems with my M1's set-up but watched my then team-mate Max Biaggi winning with the same bike," said the down-to-earth Spaniard. "It was a track that I had always done well at up until that point, both with Honda and with Yamaha. We made many changes but didn't adjust the bike properly to that track.
"My target this year will be to improve my lap times and last year's result of course. I don't know which level I will reach but it must be the maximum of the bike and myself. It's the kind of track I like, and I usually get used the heat quite quickly. Even though we didn't test there during the winter like we normally do, I don't think that will make a huge difference. The bike has changed so much anyway since the winter so the information we would have taken from winter tests might not have been directly transferable to the bikes as they are now."
NEW FOUR-STROKE CIRCUIT FOR MOTOGP ROOKIE MELANDRI
This weekend brings a completely new challenge to Fortuna Yamaha youngster Marco Melandri as he will ride his YZR-M1 at the Malaysian circuit of Sepang for the first time. The twenty-one-year-old showed fine form last weekend in Motegi after he was knocked off his racing line into the gravel on the first lap in the same incident as his team-mate Checa. After the incident the Fortuna Yamaha Team rider recovered and set the fastest lap of the race on just lap two. He then produced a string of competitive times up until the chequered flag in an effort to make up for lost time. By lap four he was 11th and by lap 13 the 250cc World Champion had moved up into sixth. After Tamada's disqualification he moved up to fifth, and currently lies fourteenth in the championship standings.
"It's a really difficult race course because of the weather conditions, and for me the most difficult track of the championship," said the young Italian. "But I really like Sepang anyway, even though it's hard on the bike and the tyres in the humidity. After a couple of laps your tyres are suffering. It's a very important track from a technical point of view because it's difficult to find a good line, as the track is so wide that there are many possibilities.
"Obviously I only have experience of this track with the two-stroke bike. Last year I had to stop because of a broken engine on the first lap. It was my first chance to win the 250cc championship, so I was really disappointed. In 2001 I raced there with a broken hand and managed to finish 11th! I think that the four-stroke bike will spin a lot there but I'm not totally sure what I will find. I really want to enjoy riding the bike there, to have a clear mind before I go there, and to take the best result I can."
Due to the Sepang circuit's hairpins and numerous hard braking areas, a fast lap and any hope of making a pass at the Malaysian venue, comes down to braking stability and the bike's turn-in characteristics. Two such areas include the two long straights and hairpins that make up the final sequence of the 5542m layout. The track surface does, however, boast a high level of grip and very few bumps. It is a venue that also offers challenging high-speed sweepers. The first dives deep into a hollow before climbing back out the other side for a 90 degree righthander. This corner alone has a tendency to load up the front of the bike to the extreme on entry, and the rear on the exit. The other is a blind lefthander that disappears over an undulating crest, which ensures that keeping the back-end in line is challenging even for the best MotoGP talent.
Therefore the ideal chassis is a compromised chassis, to a realistic degree at least. The key areas of concern are then catered for; braking stability and chassis agility under heavy loads. To help cater for both, the suspension balance will be targeted towards a similar neutral feel as that used in Motegi. The front fork springs will be set slightly firmer with a higher spring rate and the bike's attitude controlled by the spring preload.
As for the damping, it will be set to offer a softer ride, not only improving feel but also leaving the heavier springs to deal with the high cornering and braking forces. The rear shock will also carry a high spring rate but the damping will still be smooth in its motion.
Aiding the Yamaha contingent at Malaysia this weekend will be the ever-improving YZR-M1 in-line four-cylinder power plant, which has recently seen internal upgrades that have improved the torque delivery. As in Motegi, this will help to get the 220-plus horsepower machine off the slower speed turns more effectively, while increased rpm offers the M1 the ability to stretch its legs. This combination has proved effective in Motegi and Rio, where the Yamaha regularly featured high on top speeds, and will only be of more value on the long drag strips of Sepang.