Italian GP: Gauloises Yamaha preview

GAULOISES YAMAHA TEAM LOOKS FORWARD TO HOME GRAND PRIX The Gauloises Yamaha Team's MotoGP World Championship challenge resumes this weekend with the team in better shape than ever ahead of their home event, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.


The Gauloises Yamaha Team's MotoGP World Championship challenge resumes this weekend with the team in better shape than ever ahead of their home event, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello. Whilst a brief two-week respite has given riders Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards a vital opportunity to recharge their batteries, the team's engineers have taken the chance to make further improvements to their YZR-M1 machines on the back of a valuable day of tests after the last round at Le Mans.

The stop-start nature of the French circuit and the tight and twisty turns of Shanghai will be a distant memory as the riders now prepare to tackle three of the fastest racetracks in the world - Mugello, Catalunya and Assen -- over the next four weekends. The characteristics of the circuits will provide a wholly different challenge for the YZR-M1 and the team has worked specifically to adapt the machines accordingly in the recent test.

Rossi reported positively on new engine parts that the factory's engineers are now aiming to incorporate to the bikes in time for Mugello, a circuit that demands optimum horsepower down the second longest straight on the calendar -- measuring some 1,141m. Meanwhile, work has been continuing on the swiftly improving electronics and engine mapping as the engineers look to optimise the bike's acceleration capabilities, with the riders aiming to hit incredible top speeds of over 330km/h.

Whilst progress continues to be made with their machines, the riders are also growing in stature with every Grand Prix that goes by and they arrive in Italy in confident moods after a dominant showing at the last round in France, where they took the front two places on the starting grid and both finished on the podium in the race. Whilst Rossi's third victory from four races extended his championship lead to 37 points over Marco Melandri (Honda), third place for Edwards saw him close in on fifth overall and made further steps up the championship standings ladder a realistic target over the coming weeks.

As well as consolidating the riders' positions in the World Championship standings, their success at Le Mans also extended the Gauloises Yamaha Team lead in the Teams' World Championship and kept Yamaha on top in the Manufacturers' rankings. It is an ideal base for the team to work from at Mugello, which lies deep in the Tuscan hills just over 300 kilometres from the team's base at Gerno di Lesmo, near Milan.


As arguably the biggest name in Italian sport at the moment, Valentino Rossi is in for another busy weekend as his home Grand Prix brings a host of extra pressures. As well as an expectant capacity crowd, the demands of the local media are sure to make life harder for the reigning World Champion.

"Mugello is always the busiest weekend of the year for me, but the most important thing is what happens on the track" explained Rossi, who took victory for Yamaha in a rain-interrupted race at Mugello last season. "Of course Mugello is very special because it is my home race, and I hope a lot of people will come. Last year was unbelievable -- it was hard to explain the emotion I felt when I heard the crowds cheering for me on the last few laps. It's nice to arrive there on top of the championship and hopefully we can put on a good show."

After an energy-sapping start to the season, his best since 2002, Rossi says he was glad of the chance to relax for the past two weekends and is now ready to return to his best form at a crucial stage of the campaign. "We've had an extra week of holiday which has been really important because now we have three races coming up in four weekends, at Mugello, Catalunya and Assen, and they will all be very hard. When you have a few races so close together a lot of things can change in a short space of time, so it is important to keep the concentration and continue in the way we have started the season.

"The test in Le Mans has given us some good things to take to Mugello and hopefully we'll be able to use the new engine parts there and put to practice the things we've learnt. We continued to work on the general set-up and also tested some new tyres with Michelin, from which we found some good options to use in Mugello. We tried quite a lot of new things that I think will help us in Mugello so I am feeling positive."


Colin Edwards arrives in Mugello as one of Rossi's biggest rivals for victory, having finally broken his run of early season bad luck with a thrilling ride at Le Mans. The American led the way for much of the race in France before taking a creditable third place, his first podium appearance for Yamaha in MotoGP. He will not be short of local backing himself after making a lasting impression on Italian race fans with a title-clinching victory over Troy Bayliss in a breathtaking final round of the World Superbike series in 2002.

"I've got a lot of fans in Italy after the win at Imola in 2002 and I always enjoy going back there," says Edwards. "My chief mechanic is Italian, most of the team are too and we're based just down the road from Mugello, so it's a big race to do well in. Obviously it is Valentino's home Grand Prix, which also makes it special. It pretty much goes crazy wherever he is in the world, so in Italy it should be bananas!"

Like Rossi, Edwards' progress at Le Mans extended to the extra day of testing as he concentrated his work on suspension and tyres. With Yamaha's engineers endeavouring to provide the new engine parts for both riders at Mugello, the weekend should see more steps forward for the 31-year-old.

"At the test we played around with the suspension and the mapping to try to find ways to make the bike easier to ride and more forgiving. It's definitely getting better. We tested some tyres, found a new front that we're happy with and spent a lot of time on the settings, so that we can hopefully just fire away when we get to Mugello.

"I'm 100% positive that we've found a good setting to enable us to get there and be quick from the start -- just like we did at Le Mans. It's been a tough start to the year for me but a lot of things came together in France and now we just want to take the next step on from there."


Gauloises Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio admits the Italian Grand Prix is a special occasion - with family, friends and fans all set to descend on the Mugello paddock in their droves. However, the Italian recognises the importance of keeping his team's focus on events on the track and says it will be business as usual once practice gets underway on Friday morning.

"I don't know about our biggest race of the year, but it's definitely our busiest!" admits Brivio. "Many of the team members are Italian -- from Valentino all the way through to the staff -- so it will be a special atmosphere this weekend. It will be difficult to work in the paddock but at the same time it is always nice to know that there are so many fans supporting our riders.

"Essentially, when the red lights go out at 2pm on Sunday we could be at any racetrack in the world, so we have to be sure that we are as prepared as we would be anywhere else. That means doing everything right from the first practice session.

"This is the best shape we have been in all season -- we are leading the standings for the riders, the teams and the factory; the bike is constantly improving and both our riders are full of confidence after Le Mans. The target for us now is to maintain that level of performance and keep improving.

"Hopefully the new engine parts we tested at Le Mans can be ready in time for Mugello, because it is a track where you need a lot of horsepower. Yamaha's engineers are very busy trying to adapt the bike and it will be an interesting opportunity to compare our progress."


Valentino Rossi's memorable win at Mugello last year was the factory's first at the Italian racetrack since the legendary Wayne Rainey swept his YZR500 to victory at the twelfth round of the 1991 season. Rainey's win at the San Marino Grand Prix came at a crucial point of his first World Championship title defence and is fondly remembered by the Californian for the unique atmosphere generated by motorcycle fans in Italy.

"Racing in Italy is very special because the passion the Italians have for motorcycle racing is like nowhere else in the world," says Rainey. "I always felt that, unlike other nationalities that simply enjoy watching racing, the Italians actually understand what it is that we do.

"In particular, the atmosphere at Mugello is incredible. The paddock is set down in the valley and I remember lying awake in my motorhome at night because of the amount of noise they were making in the hills surrounding the circuit. I didn't care about losing sleep though -- it just felt so neat to be a part of it!"

Whilst the huge crowds bank around the hills that surround the picturesque Mugello circuit, the track weaves and twists its way delightfully around the bottom of the valley and, Rainey remembers, it gave him the opportunity to escape from perennial pursuers Kevin Schwantz and Mick Doohan. The win also came at a crucial point of his first World Championship title defence, striking a psychological blow over the pair with just three rounds remaining.

"I always remember the track layout because it had so many uphill and downhill sections, which a lot of tracks didn't have at the time, and a very long straight where Kevin and Mick were able to catch me up! We were a bit down on top speed to them but the chassis and engine set-up we had were perfect and I was able to get away in the twisty sections.

"I won six races that season and when you are fighting for a championship they are all as valuable as each other, but the Mugello win definitely came at a good time. I think it gave the whole team a massive boost just when we needed it and probably damaged the psyche of my competitors too. It gave us confidence for the end of the season and I was able to retain the title by taking a win and a podium in the next two rounds. I was very proud to win a race at Mugello."


At 5.245km the Mugello circuit is one of the longer contemporary MotoGP circuits, in no small part due to the fact that, unlike many other classically sculpted tracks, it has retained its original length and layout. Running across two sides of an impossibly scenic Tuscan valley, Mugello also differs from other super fast circuits in its frequent changes of gradient and the speed of its chicanes. There is a mix of slower and high-speed corners, although even the slowest corners are wide, allowing several 'ideal' lines.

Having foregone the modern tendency to reduce speeds by creating 'bus stops', Mugello's four significant chicanes are taken at a relatively high pace. Balancing out the need for firmer suspension on the high-speed sections, which compress front and rear suspension due to centrifugal forces, is the requirement for enough pliability to give tyre side grip and traction around the slower off-camber corners.

The suspension set-up quest is further complicated by the fact that on one section of the track the approach to the corners is uphill, on the other half downhill, altering the parameters in the search for ideal spring and compression damping rates. Horsepower is a significant factor, with the long Mugello straight a possible passing place at top speeds of over 330kmph.

Good top speed aside, the rideability and balance of the machine have to be second-to-none at Mugello, such are its spread of corners. A magnificent but stern test of the complete machine, Mugello demands perfection lap after lap, but rewards precise and spirited riding.


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Kevin Schwantz , Valentino Rossi , Troy Bayliss , Colin Edwards , Wayne Rainey , Mick Doohan , Marco Melandri , Davide Brivio