Italian GP: Yamaha Team preview

Italian Grand Prix Mugello May 31/June 1/2 2002 MARLBORO YAMAHA FULL OF PROMISE AT MUGELLO The Marlboro Yamaha Team comes home to Italy this weekend full of promise following an impressive performance at the French GP two weeks ago. Riders Max...

Italian Grand Prix
May 31/June 1/2 2002

The Marlboro Yamaha Team comes home to Italy this weekend full of promise following an impressive performance at the French GP two weeks ago. Riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa scored the YZR-M1's best-ever qualifying performance at Le Mans and were in the thick of the battle for victory when Checa fell, through no fault of his own. Biaggi went on to finish a close-run third, allowing the Italian star to approach his home GP with renewed optimism.

The pair's improved performance follows crucial developments to the M1's updated computer-controlled engine-braking system and both Biaggi and Checa will have more upgrade parts this weekend, including a new chassis. They hope that these parts will improve their pace still further as they pursue the M1's first victory in the new MotoGP series which has introduced awesome 200-plus horsepower four-strokes to World Championship racing.

Although the Marlboro Yamaha Team has run the M1 on several occasions at Mugello, this is the first time that the glorious Italian track has welcomed the full MotoGP pack. A bigger-than-ever crowd is therefore expected as the roaring 990cc four-strokes go head to head with the once dominant 500cc two-strokes, a contest that adds a new twist to the enthralling all-Italian rivalry between the nation's three MotoGP gladiators: Biaggi and Valentino Rossi on four-strokes, Loris Capirossi on a two-stroke.

Max Biaggi's brilliant third-place finish at Le Mans a fortnight back brings him to Mugello aglow with confidence and aiming for his first victory of the MotoGP four-stroke era. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man had a torrid time at the first three races of 2002 but enjoyed a stunning renaissance in France, where his YZR-M1 was the fastest bike on the track.

Speed will be a major talking point this weekend because the fastest of the new four-strokes are expected to exceed 320kmh/200mph. Biaggi's M1 touched 297kmh/184.5mph on Le Mans' much shorter uphill straight, 1.5kmh/1mph faster than Rossi's Honda RCV. Of course, like most racers Biaggi isn't much concerned with the drama of high top-speed figures, he's more concerned with the overall performance of his YZR-M1. And Yamaha have more developments for this weekend's race. Most important, the Roman will have a new chassis to evaluate.

"At Le Mans I could see that the Honda had an advantage over us in the slower corners, so we need to work on that," says Biaggi, who finished third in last year's rain-soaked Italian 500 GP, riding a YZR500. "I'm very curious to see how the bike will be this weekend and I hope I'll have what I need to ride a nice race. It's my home race, so it's very important, a podium finish is necessary. We've had some bad luck this year, so I hope that Le Mans was the turning point."

Biaggi tested at Mugello three weeks ago but rain prevented him from using the two-day session to do more than basic set-up work. But he did get to try the upgraded engine-braking system which has transformed performance. "The changes to the engine-braking system mean I don't have to brake so early and that makes a big difference to my lap times," he explains. "If I can brake five metres later for every corner I reckon that's better than having ten more horsepower. Now I hope we can keep the momentum going."

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio also hopes his crew can keep moving forward. "We go to Mugello aiming to confirm recent progress and also to improve some more," he says. "Max and Carlos will have one new chassis each that they will try for the first time on Friday, then we will decide which way to go for the rest of the weekend. If the new chassis works well it would represent a very important step forward for Max as he is so keen on looking for better turning and handling. We have had no time to test the chassis before the GP, which is why we're doing a more in-depth evaluation during our Valencia tests on the following Thursday and Friday."

There are few more affable riders in the MotoGP paddock than Carlos Checa, which is why the Marlboro Yamaha Team star deserves a total change of luck after two consecutive DNFs. In France two weeks ago Checa was fourth and right with the race leaders when he crashed on gravel brought on to the track by another rider. And in Spain a fortnight earlier he'd been lying fifth when his bike stopped on the last lap.

Third and fifth in the first two races of 2002, Checa should by rights be near the top of the World Championship table, but he refuses to dwell on his luckless month, preferring to look forward to Mugello where he aims to continue his impressive progress with the YZR-M1. At Le Mans he qualified second, just 0.076 seconds shy of pole position, and he's hoping that a new chassis will make him even quicker.

"I hope that the new chassis' revised geometry will improve handling and steering at Mugello and everywhere else," he says. "This is where we need to make up time because the engine-braking system is now working pretty well. At Le Mans I felt very confident. I was comfortable 'backing' the bike into corners, so I could keep braking deep into the turns with the front and rear brakes, which is what I like to do.

"Mugello should be good for the four-stroke. I've tested there with the M1 several times over the past year and have already lapped faster than I ever managed on the 500. The bike is obviously improving, so I think that we can now look forward to fighting for the win. What happened at Le Mans and Jerez was a real shame, but racing is sometimes like that. You have good times and bad times, and whatever you're going through you must always keep looking ahead."

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio is convinced that Checa will be back in the results this Sunday. "Carlos has had two very unlucky races, so we're looking forward to him showing to everybody what he can really do, like he did at Suzuka," says Brivio. "Like Max, Carlos has given the Yamaha engineers vital feedback that has really helped the factory react quickly and effectively to the problems we had earlier in the year. Yamaha are working incredibly hard and we're all really thankful for their efforts. I hope Le Mans was the real start of our championship, I think we can expect things to get better and better from here."


Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"At Le Mans we made our first big step forward since winter testing, thanks to changes to the engine-braking system," says Fanali. "Now we have more new parts for Mugello and I think we can be in the fight for victory. Max wants to improve the bike's turning and we hope the new chassis will help us achieve that improvement. Mugello is my home race, also for all the other Italians within our team, but this makes no difference to us. I'm so focused on my work that I never even notice the fans!"

Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"We're looking forward to getting more new parts at Mugello," says Jimenez. "But we will need to be clever to quickly understand the new chassis and get the best set-up. On Friday morning we'll work to get a good feeling with the new chassis and make another one or two steps forward. The nice thing is that we already have a good base with the current chassis, Carlos has already been very fast at Mugello with this bike. He's riding well now and I think he is ready to start putting pressure on the front guys."

Mugello is the kind of fast, flowing track that should really allow the MotoGP four-strokes to unleash their awesome horsepower. The circuit is as popular with riders as it is with fans and is also reckoned to be one of the most challenging, with a thrilling blend of fast and slow turns, rapid direction changes, plentiful off-camber corners and an ultra-rapid main straight. Mugello's complexities are further heightened by a bumpy surface, which, combined with numerous adverse-camber corners, makes front-tyre choice particularly crucial.

The Italian GP at Mugello has become one of the most popular GPs since it joined the calendar full-time in 1991, first as the San Marino round and then as the Italian GP. The circuit hosted its first bike GP in 1976 but only became a regular venue after total refurbishment in the early nineties.

And because Italy is the heart and soul of the motorsport world, the Italian GP is arguably the greatest weekend of the world championship season. Mugello has got everything: a superb circuit nestling in a beautiful Tuscan valley, the hillsides thronging with noisy, enthusiastic fans. And outside you'll find some of the world's best restaurants, and 25 miles away is Florence, cradle of the Renaissance.

5.245km/3.259 miles

Lap record
Mick Doohan (Honda): 1m 53.342s, 166.593kmh/103.516mph (1998)


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Mick Doohan , Davide Brivio