Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi completed their pre-season testing programme at Suzuka today, confirming once again that they are ready to challenge for the 2001 500 World Championship which begins at the Japanese track on...
Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi completed their pre-season testing programme at Suzuka today, confirming once again that they are ready to challenge for the 2001 500 World Championship which begins at the Japanese track on April 8.
Checa and Biaggi have been consistently the strongest team at the three group test sessions they've attended over the past six weeks at Jerez, Estoril and Suzuka. The pair have been second or third quickest on each occasion, with different riders just a fraction ahead of them at each circuit.
"From track to track, no one has been more consistent than either of our guys," said Marlboro Yamaha Team manager Geoff Crust. "And while some riders have been putting in just one or two quick laps, Carlos and Max have been both fast and consistent wherever we've been to test. It shows that the new bike is really good and that our riders are feeling confident -- we can't wait to get racing."
Checa was second quickest at Suzuka, only 0.164 seconds behind Tohru Ukawa (Honda), with Biaggi third, a further 0.562 seconds down and just ahead of Valentino Rossi (Honda). The fastest six riders all lapped inside Biaggi's three-year-old lap record.
"We got the bike dialled in very quickly which allowed us to concentrate on trying lots of different tyres, said Checa. "This track is different in character from most other circuits we go to so we started with suspension adjustments but we got that sorted and then did plenty of race-distance tyre testing. I'm feeling good because whenever we've come across a problem over the last few weeks, we've always been able to fix things pretty quickly. I think we're in good shape for the race here and for the championship."
Like most of his rivals, Checa rode his best laps yesterday, the fastest of the three-day session, with today's times slightly down due to strong winds. The windy conditions did catch out the Spaniard, who fell this morning as he rode through the fifth gear right hander before Spoon Curve.
"I was trying to hold a tight line to keep the bike steady when the wind took the front wheel away," explained Checa, who was able to ride his YZR500 back to the pits, suffering just a few friction burns in the 240kmh tumble.
Biaggi ended the session sharing his team-mate's confidence for the season-opening Japanese GP and beyond. Like Checa he focused on perfecting machine set-up with Michelin's 16.5in rear slick, which is likely to be the popular choice at the Japanese GP.
"I've been testing various different settings and tyres so that I get a real feel for the bike," explained Biaggi. "It's all about fine tuning, especially here where you really need the bike to hold its line. I was a bit disappointed with today's windy conditions because I wanted to improve my times but the main thing is that we feel ready to go racing, we already have a good set-up for this track. Testing has been good this winter and now we're ready for racing, it's what we do all this work for, it's the big fight."
While riders battled today's strong winds, the Suzuka track surface has also been dirty in parts, the result of ongoing track improvements. Lap times are faster than ever at the impressive Japanese venue, though Yamaha Grand Prix manager Masahiko Nakajima believes the circuit changes haven't made much difference to times.
"The first part of the esses is tighter while the final section, before Dunlop Curve, is more open, so I think they cancel each other out," he said. "This is a specialist circuit anyway, and we've worked hard to perfect our engine and chassis settings. The good thing is that our 2001 YZR500 seems very consistent in performance at all the different tracks and we have a good base setting that seems to work everywhere.
"This is the third year of the Marlboro Yamaha Team programme and I think our experience together is beginning to show. Both riders have a lot of confidence in the machine and we have real faith that they can both challenge for the World Championship. We have given Carlos and Max the best possible bikes so they've got the best possible chance of winning the crown."
Checa, Biaggi and the Marlboro Yamaha Team now return to Europe for a brief rest before returning to Suzuka for the first round of this year's 16 event MotoGP series which concludes in Rio de Janeiro on November 4. Qualifying for the Suzuka race commences on Friday April 6.
Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team) 2m 05.893s
Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) 2m 06.455s
Max Biaggi (Honda) 2m 06.746s (1998)
2000 pole position
Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) 2m 06.679s