No 10 Czech Grand Prix, Brno August 24/25/26 2001 LET BATTLE RECOMMENCE! The enthralling battle for the last-ever 500 World Championship resumes this weekend after a four-week midseason lull. On-form Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team), winner...
Czech Grand Prix, Brno
August 24/25/26 2001
LET BATTLE RECOMMENCE!
The enthralling battle for the last-ever 500 World Championship resumes this weekend after a four-week midseason lull. On-form Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team), winner of two of the last three GPs before the break, aims to keep that momentum rolling at Brno as he homes in on World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Honda).
The two Italians utterly dominated the first nine events of the 2001 season, series leader Rossi winning five races to Biaggi's three, but Biaggi's impressive recent form has bitten into Rossi's advantage and the duo come to Brno separated by just ten points.
Biaggi, six times a GP winner at Brno, is in confident mood following crucial tests at the track during late July when he further improved the set-up of his factory YZR500s. Yamaha, who were the first factory to win a 500 crown with a two-stroke way back in 1973, are determined to win the final 500 World Championship before big-bore four-strokes are introduced to GP racing next year.
The marque ruled in Germany, last GP before the break, filling the first four places and vindicating its decision to field eight YZR riders this year. Biaggi will be hoping for more Yamaha domination this weekend from fellow YZR riders, including team-mate Carlos Checa. The Spaniard finished second behind the Italian at the Sachsenring four weeks ago, suggesting he's back to his best after a difficult run of races. Checa's avowed intent is to compete for podium finishes at each of the last seven races of 2001 and to score his first victory for the Marlboro Yamaha Team.
After Sunday's racing at Brno just two races remain in Europe before the Grand Prix circus packs its flight cases and heads east for the Asian/Australian sector of the World Championship. The Portuguese and Valencia GPs precede a frantic series of three races on consecutive Sundays in Japan (for the Pacific GP), Australia and Malaysia. There is then a one-weekend respite before the season reaches its climax in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, November 3.
MAX GOES FOR 7TH BRNO WIN
Max Biaggi has been in breathtaking form over the past few months. After an up-and-down start to his 2001 campaign, the Marlboro Yamaha Team star has been the strongest-performing rider, chasing down series leader Valentino Rossi (Honda). The duo have turned the battle for the final 500 World Championship into an all-Italian contest and the next few races will be crucial to the season's outcome.
Already a winner at Le Mans, Assen and Sachsenring this year, Biaggi hopes to inflict another defeat upon Rossi in Sunday's Czech Grand Prix. And he has every reason to be confident of a great result. Biaggi is the acknowledged king of Brno - he's won six of his past seven races at the track, including four back-to-back 250 wins from '94 to '97 and 500 victories in '98 and 2000.
Biaggi is arguably the most artistic, artful 500 rider of the moment and it is his riding style that makes him so successful at the Czech venue. Unlike some 500 riders, who use an apparently more violent technique, Biaggi is renowned for his grace and precision.
"You've got to be so precise with your lines at Brno," he says. "Precision gives you a real premium here and I think that's why I love the track. But I've proved that I can also win at other circuits. The Sachsenring is very different from Brno and yet I was able to win there in the best-possible way, starting out front and pulling away, winning at my own pace."
Biaggi's pace at the last half-dozen races has brought him to within ten points of Rossi. An impressive achievement, considering he lagged 46 points behind his compatriot after the first three races of the season.
"I'm riding harder and harder at the moment because I want to win races and close the points gap," adds Biaggi, strongest rider in the closing stages of the 1999 and 2000 series. "I've been in this situation in the past. The guy who is second must push so hard, while the guy in front always has a bit of a psychological advantage."
And yet Biaggi comes to Brno with his own psychological advantage. Not only is he the main man at the epic track, he will also start the weekend several steps ahead of his title rival following successful tests at the track on July 29/30/31. During those tests Biaggi and crew chief Fiorenzo Fanali focused on finding a set-up to suit Michelin's 16.5in rear slick. Last year Biaggi won at Brno with a 17in rear and the 16.5 requires different settings.
"There's a lot of esses at Brno, so it's important to find the right set-up, so the rider can change direction very fast," explains Fanali. "The 16.5 can make the steering a little heavier, so during the tests we worked at getting the bike to change direction well. We also worked on chatter, the 16.5 gives more grip, and that can sometimes mean more chatter."
Biaggi believes the tests were a success. "It wasn't easy to start with, but we improved things so the bike reacts the way I like it to react," he explains. "We now have set-ups for both the 16.5 and 17 because I think both have their advantages at Brno, a bit like Mugello, where we raced a 17."
CHECA AIMING HIGH AGAIN
Carlos Checa returns to the World Championship fray this weekend fully rested and in high spirits. After finishing a superb second at the German GP on July 22, and making excellent progress during the Marlboro Yamaha Team's Brno tests at the end of last month, Checa took time out in the Pyrenees, while team-mate Max Biaggi soaked up the sun in Spain.
Now the Spaniard can't wait to get racing again. "I feel great now because we've got the bike working so well," he says. "I feel confident that I can fight for a podium finish at every race from now on and I hope I can win at least one GP before the end of the year."
Although delighted with his German GP result, Checa joked that he hated finishing second. He has scored no less than seven runner-up finishes for the Marlboro Yamaha Team and is super keen to go one better. "If everything goes right, I believe I can do it," he adds. "The bike is so much better for me now. It gives me better feeling wherever we're racing, and that's what we had been lacking. Brno wasn't so good for me last year but this weekend should be different because we found a good set-up compromise during the tests. The bike felt better and the lap times were better so my feeling is that we can run up front.
"Apart from my second places in France and Germany, we've had quite a tough year, and a lot of pressure as a result, but the team has always supported me and I really appreciate their attitude. Now I want to repay that support with some good, consistent results."
Checa's crew chief Mike Webb shares his rider's renewed confidence. "We've found a good balance with the bike," says the New Zealander. "And when the balance is good, you can keep the bike pretty much the same from one track to the next, so Carlos is riding a bike that's not changing all the time. That's a huge plus because he gets to know the bike, feels confident with it, and because it's not changing all the time, he can predict what it's going to do, even before the bike does something. Now we're just fine tuning the bike for each track, rather than reinventing it every weekend.
"The thing with Brno is that most of the corners are the same character, they're third gear with a similar style. Once you get the bike set up for that kind of corner, you've got two thirds of the track covered. You need a bike that keeps turning with the gas on or off.
"The track is also so wide, too wide in some ways. It gives riders the impression that they've got loads of space, but they don't need to use all that space. If they do, they're taking the long way round, the slow way. It's a mental thing - riders see all that track and it screws up their conception of the apex and so on."
Last year Checa had a difficult weekend at Brno, qualifying down in 15th place and finishing the race just outside the top ten. His pace during July's tests was much improved on last year's, with consistent low 2m 02s lap times.
Brno is one of the most popular venues in Grand Prix racing, eschewing the modern trend for tight turns and hairpins for a mighty mix of fast sweepers and undulating corners that test rider talent and engineering to the limit. Most riders love the place because it's challenging and also because it's very fast.
Race engineers are as busy as ever at Brno, working to get the best-possible corner speed for the circuit's long sweeping turns and high-speed esses. Horsepower is also a major consideration because this is one racetrack where modern-day 500s, usually caged in at slower venues, really get moving.
Situated outside the cathedral city of Brno, the 5.403km/3.357 mile track sweeps across pine-studded hillsides, with superb natural viewing facilities for the vast crowd that comes from all over Europe. The venue was constructed in the mid-eighties to replace a lethal 10.9km/6.8 mile street circuit that had hosted the nation's GPs from the mid-sixties; you still pass the fading old pit complex on the way from the city centre to the current Brno circuit.
WHAT THE TEAM SAYS
Max Biaggi would never say he's unbeatable but the Marlboro Yamaha Team man has only been beaten once at Brno since 1994. No wonder he loves the fast, sweeping Czech track so much. "It's probably my favourite," says the four-time 250 World Champion. "I really like the layout, it's very up and down and there's plenty of esses, which I enjoy."
Team manager Geoff Crust believes the team's Brno tests in July could give his men a crucial advantage this weekend. "Brno is a tough track for set-up," he says. "You're loading up the tyre with some lean angle, and that's why Brno is probably the worst track of all for chatter. Our tests mean that we've now got both the 16.5 and 17in tyre options wide open for the race."
Crew chief Fiorenzo Fanali adds: "Brno should be good for Max. Everyone has favourite tracks but Max has been fast at the last six races, he's fast everywhere now."
Unlike his team-mate, Carlos Checa has never scored a podium finish at Brno and the Spaniard is looking forward to changing that on Sunday. "I've never had good results at Brno, but I think this year could be different," he says. "It's a great track - long, wide and with a lot of direction changes, which really test a bike's handling."
Chief engineer Mike Webb is also confident of success this weekend. "It's a wonderful track though we've not had brilliant results there over the last couple of years," he says. "After a great result in Germany I'm way more confident. Like any racetrack, Brno is all about balance, about how the front and the rear work together, and we're striking a much better balance now. In the past we've had the bike either awesome on brakes and no good on corner exits, or vice versa. It's about understanding the compromise and getting the rider to go along with that, so he realises the bike isn't going to be perfect at every point of the track."