German GP: Yamaha Team preview

Inside Line No 9 Marlboro Yamaha Team German Grand Prix, Sachsenring July 19/20/21 2002 MARLBORO YAMAHA RETURN TO HAPPY HUNTING GROUND Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 stars Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa return to the Sachsenring this weekend hoping...

Inside Line No 9
Marlboro Yamaha Team
German Grand Prix, Sachsenring
July 19/20/21 2002

Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 stars Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa return to the Sachsenring this weekend hoping to repeat their stunning one-two finish at last year's German Grand Prix. And following stirring performances from the duo at last Sunday's British GP, both men have high hopes of challenging for victory at the popular German venue.

Biaggi finished second at Donington Park last weekend, despite suffering the lingering effects of a bout of fever, while Checa dominated the first half of the race before sliding off unhurt. Even though Valentino Rossi (Honda) went on to win the event, the YZR-M1 riders' performances suggest that they are edging closer to success with every Grand Prix. And both men fancy their chances at the Sachsenring. The M1 is renowned for its smooth, user-friendly performance and that's exactly what's required at the 'Ring, a circuit dominated by long corners and straights barely worthy of the name.

Sunday's German GP is the ninth event of the 16-round 2002 MotoGP World Championship and the last race before the sport's traditional midseason month-long hiatus. This season, testing has been banned during August in the run-up to the Czech GP on August 25 in a bid to give hard-worked riders and teams a much-needed rest. Six races remain after the Czech event, just two on the Continent and four outside Europe.

This Sunday's German Grand Prix is the third of the 2002 World Championship's three north European races, following recent events at Assen, in the Netherlands, and Donington Park, in Britain. And like Donington, the Sachsenring is a racetrack that favours sweet-handling over brute horsepower. No wonder then that Yamaha YZR500 riders totally dominated last year's race, monopolising the top four finishing positions, lap record holder Shinya Nakano and Norick Abe following Marlboro Yamaha Team men Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa over the line.

Biaggi and Checa will be hoping for a repeat of that famous one-two, though, of course, circumstances are very different this year. This season is the first of the new four-stroke-based MotoGP era, so the Italian and the Spaniard are riding YZR-M1 four-strokes, very different machines from the YZR500s they used to dominate last July's race.

The M1 has been undergoing consistent improvement ever since Checa gave the bike a rousing third-place debut at April's season-opening Japanese GP. Following major upgrades at the French and Italian GPs - when a new chassis and new software for the bike's computer-aided engine-braking system transformed performance - Yamaha are now working on fine tuning chassis and engine performance. At the last two GPs the bike has benefited from a modified crankshaft, offering smoother acceleration, and now Yamaha engineers are focusing on further improvements to the M1's chassis.

"We are working with a new rear-suspension linkage," reveals YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda. "We've introduced the new linkage following feedback from both Carlos and Max. The linkage offers more progressive suspension, improving corner-exit drive and calming wheelies. We believe the linkage works better with the four-stroke's power delivery.

"Sachsenring could be a challenging circuit for the four-strokes. Last year our data showed that riders use full throttle around this track less than at any other GP circuit, and, of course, the M1 is faster and more powerful than a 500. But the four-stroke also has smoother power character, so that may give us an advantage through the track's many long corners. We shouldn't need to work on chassis geometry so much, you just need a normal swing balance for Sachsenring, to provide good traction into and out of corners."

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio believes that the M1 gets closer to its first victory with every race. "Our British GP performance suggests that we are getting near to our target of winning races," he says. "Even Rossi admitted that our bike seemed better than his through some sections of Donington. This is a sign that we are moving in the right direction and this motivates us to improve even more. Last year Sachsenring suited our 500s very well, so we hope that the M1's character will give us an advantage this weekend."

Marlboro Yamaha Team star Max Biaggi scored one of his three great victories of 2002 at the Sachsenring, starting from pole position to leave the pack trailing as he used his YZR500's fine-handling chassis to devastating effect. This week he aims to repeat that result aboard his YZR-M1. Currently third overall in the MotoGP points standings, Biaggi has been a consistent performer since getting up to speed on the four-stroke - he's finished inside the top four at the last five races, including two second-place finishes. A close-run runner-up at Donington last Sunday, just 2.371 seconds behind series leader Valentino Rossi, he's now just about ready to move on up to the next level.

"Last year's German GP was great for me," says Biaggi, now fully recovered from the fever that laid him low in the run-up to Donington. "I like the track, and the changes they made for 2001 were a definite improvement. The downhill fast right near the end of the lap is a lot of fun."

"Overall I'm quite happy with the improvements we've made to the M1 since May. Since then we've been fine tuning the set-up and we still need to keep working to get the machine exactly how I like it. The four-stroke is better than the two-stroke in many areas, but in some it isn't so good. The M1 weighs 15 kilos more than the YZR500 (according to MotoGP technical regulations) I rode last year, so we still need to improve the M1's manoeuvrability. The four-stroke's slower handling made life quite difficult at Assen, where the changes of direction are made at very high speed, and although we made some improvements for Donington, I felt I still needed some more agility for the faster sections of the track. Agility will also be very important at the Sachsenring because turning is what really matters at this track."

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio is confident that his crew's input is giving Biaggi more of what he wants. "My feeling is that things are getting better and better for Max," he says. "Our aim is to keep working to give him the bike for the job. He rode a great race at Donington, even though he wasn't at full strength, and if we can make some further refinements to his bike, I think he can begin to run the kind of consistent race pace required for victory."

Carlos Checa was well on his way to giving the YZR-M1 its first victory in Britain last weekend before the most minor of falls ended his hopes. The Marlboro Yamaha Team star slid off at one of Donington's dead-slow and slippery turns, the same off-camber hairpin that had claimed team-mate Max Biaggi and race-winner Valentino Rossi earlier in the weekend.

Bitterly disappointed following his exit, Checa comes to Germany determined to repeat his front-running performance, but this time keep it going all the way to the chequered flag. "I don't fully understand why I crashed, I wasn't really doing anything different from the previous laps," says the Spaniard, currently fifth overall. "I was riding around, feeling very comfortable, and waiting for the last five laps, when I was going to start pushing harder to see if Rossi could stay with me."

After the race Rossi admitted that he would've been hard pressed to defeat Checa, even at the M1 rider's mid-race pace. It seems that Checa was particularly impressive through the slower turns, which bodes well for this weekend because the Sachsenring is dominated by slow- to medium-speed corners.

"The Yamaha YZR500 worked very well at this track last year," says Checa, who finished a strong second behind Biaggi at the 2001 German GP. "But we don't know how the four-stroke will be until we get there. It's a tight and slow circuit with many direction changes, which should favour the two-strokes, but it's also the kind of circuit where you're banked over for long periods of time, and that's better for the four-strokes because these bikes give you a better feeling and more confidence at high angles of lean. Tyre wear isn't a problem. It should be an interesting battle between the two different kinds of bike. I think they will be quite close to each other in performance, for sure the four-strokes won't have the kind of advantage they had at Catalunya and Mugello."

After Checa's crowd-pleasing run at Donington, Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio hopes that the 29-year old can fulfil his potential this Sunday. "Carlos suits the M1 really well and I'm really happy with his speed," says Brivio. "He's fast and he's consistent, and, like Max, he really deserves to start winning on this bike."


Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"Sachsenring was very good for our 500, now we have to work to make sure that Max can use the M1 in the same way. We have been concentrating on lighter handling, so Max can change direction faster. We also need to focus on sorting corner-exit wheelies, and we have some new parts to help us with this problem. I think we've been making improvements at every race, and for sure Max would've been faster at Donington if he hadn't been sick during the week. At the moment it's difficult to beat Honda but Yamaha are working hard on improvements. A couple of months ago we were quite happy with podium finishes, now we are only thinking about winning races."

Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"This weekend we will keep working in the same direction. The Donington crash wasn't really Carlos' fault - it's a very slippery circuit and it will be good to get back to a grippy track. The big thing at the Sachsenring is turning - we need to arrange his machine set-up so that the bike turns well and keeps its line through the longer corner, both off gas and on gas. Straight-line speed isn't really important at this circuit, the chassis is everything. The Sachsenring should also be quite good for the two-strokes, though it's difficult to know where each type of bike will have their advantages and disadvantages. We'll only know after the first day or so of practice and qualifying."

The Sachsenring was one of GP racing's most popular circuits back in the sixties, when quarter of a million sports-starved East German fans would flock to the track to see Western teams take on the incredibly quick Eastern Bloc two-strokes.

The lethal high-speed street circuit hosted its last GP in 1972, an all-new short circuit returning the venue to the calendar in 1998. At that time the short circuit was the slowest in GP racing, with a lap speed of just 143kmh/89mph. Revisions for 2000 upped the pace to 150kmh/93mph and the addition of an extra loop last year (which left out the sole remaining section of the old street circuit) increased lap speeds to 153kmh/95mph. Initially deemed too slow, the Sachsenring is now a popular venue with most GP riders.

Nevertheless the character of the anti-clockwise circuit is still tight and twisty, putting the emphasis on delicate mid-range engine performance rather than brute top-end horsepower. Riders use full throttle for less than 20 per cent of a lap at Sachsenring, as they ease on the power through the twists and turns.

The circuit infrastructure was also radically improved for 2001, with a brand new pit-lane complex replacing the former semi-alfresco pit boxes.

3.704km/2.302 miles
Lap record: Shinya Nakano (Yamaha), 1m 26.808s, 153.607kmh/95.447mph


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Shinya Nakano , Davide Brivio