FYT South African GP final qualifying notes

Fortuna Yamaha Team more upbeat after final qualifying. Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa put in a determined effort to improve his grid position for Sunday's 28 lap race in what was one of the most competitive final qualifying sessions so...

Fortuna Yamaha Team more upbeat after final qualifying.

Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa put in a determined effort to improve his grid position for Sunday's 28 lap race in what was one of the most competitive final qualifying sessions so far in MotoGP, for the Africa's Grand Prix. In perfect conditions, and with a clean line around the 4242m circuit, virtually every rider in the 21 bike field improved on their Friday times - leaving only one second separating the top 15 riders, and 2.392 seconds separating the entire field.

Following on from the change in direction made yesterday to the suspension set-up of his Yamaha YZR-M1, Checa and his team improved the overall feel and balance of the machine even more today, resulting in a 1.144 second improvement to his Friday time. Consistently strong throughout the hour-long session, even while endurance testing tyres, the Spaniard eventually posted his fastest time, a 1'33.662, only on lap 27 to qualify seventh fastest overall.

Provisional pole sitter Valentino Rossi (Honda) was dislodged from the top of the time sheets when Sete Gibernau (Honda) produced a 1'33.174 in the final stages to clinch the number one position for the start of tomorrow's main event. Rossi, with a 1'33.370, posted the second quickest time, followed by Max Biaggi (Honda, 1'33.386) and Loris Capirossi (Ducati, 1' 33.408) - the latter crashing in the final few minutes of the session. Leaving fifth placed Shinya Nakano (d'Antin Yamaha Team, 1'33.548) to miss out on a front row start by a mere 0.14 seconds.

Checa's mood was particularly upbeat at the close of the session, "I'm quite satisfied and I think we've improved a lot from yesterday, this morning and to now," said the Spaniard. "At least now I am enjoying the riding much more - I can brake, I can open and flick in the right areas. This has been impossible for me for quite a while, even through this winter in testing and at Suzuka."

Checa's crew chief Antonio Jimenez and his team made adjustments to chassis and suspension balance on the YZR-M1 after yesterday's first qualifying session, and it made all the difference. "We've gone back to closer to last year's set-up," explained Checa, "and with this new chassis balance I feel more comfortable. Now I have a clearer idea of what we must improve to go faster, even though we're already close to the limit. I'm so close to the top guys so I'm sure the race will be difficult and this is not an easy circuit to pass at. But I feel quite confident to have a chance to win. I' m mostly happy because I was riding so rigidly before and now I don't look like a plastic toy rider any more!"

After a somewhat sedate start to the Welkom MotoGP weekend, Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Norick Abe strung together a series of consistent laps that eventually placed him 14th on the timesheets. His time, a 1'34.152, saw him only 0.978 seconds shy of pole.

The Japanese rider and Melandri replacement was very pleased with his performance today, "We changed many settings since yesterday," said Abe. "My chief mechanic Fiorenzo Fanali and my team worked very well to adjust the front geometry. I think this setting is very good for the race. The lap time I got today was my target, as I said yesterday - to improve by one second, and I got it! I never like qualifying, I like racing, so I think we are in a good position to make a good race tomorrow."

Team Director Davide Brivio commented, "The team and riders have worked really well together to make improvements since yesterday. Carlos has found a much better feeling, he has taken a big step between yesterday morning and this afternoon. He will start from the second row, and has found a good pace. We can now look forward to tomorrow's race. Norick has also improved a lot in the two days - tomorrow he can go for the race and enjoy it."

FRONT ROW
1. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Telefonica Movistar HONDA 1'33.174
2. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'33.370
3. Max Biaggi (ITA) Camel Pramac Pons HONDA 1'33.386
4. Loris Capirossi (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'33.408

7. CARLOS CHECA SPA Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'34.662
14. NORICK ABE JPN Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'34.152

-fyt-

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Sete Gibernau , Shinya Nakano , Davide Brivio