BACK TO JAPAN WITH HIGH HOPES OF MORE M1 GLORY The Marlboro Yamaha Team returns to Japan this week with high hopes of further glory following stirring performances at the last three MotoGP World Championship events. Riders Max Biaggi and Carlos...
BACK TO JAPAN WITH HIGH HOPES OF MORE M1 GLORY
The Marlboro Yamaha Team returns to Japan this week with high hopes of further glory following stirring performances at the last three MotoGP World Championship events. Riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa have been at the forefront of the MotoGP pack since the sport's summer break ended with the Czech GP, where Biaggi took pole position and scored the M1's first victory. At the next race in Portugal it was Checa who started from pole, finishing the rain-soaked race in second place. And two weeks ago at Rio Biaggi was back on pole again, securing a second-place finish in that race to promote him to second overall.
Three consecutive pole positions suggest that the M1 is now the fastest bike out there, so the team is focusing all its efforts into turning that speed into more victories at the last four races of 2002. Motegi is an extra-special Grand Prix, since it takes place on Japanese tarmac, and there's nothing the team would like to do more than win here to thank the Yamaha factory for their intensive input into the M1 project.
Motegi also commences a gruelling run of three back-to-back events, with the Malaysian Grand Prix following next weekend and the Australian GP on October 20. The first-ever four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship concludes at Valencia, in Spain, on November 3.
M1 GETS MORE GO FOR STOP-AND-GO TRACK
No factory has worked harder during this year's inaugural four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship than Yamaha. Following a challenging run of preseason tests, the factory's race department has used all its renowned expertise to develop the mighty YZR-M1 into a race-winning force. YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda and his dedicated crew of engineers have worked tirelessly to produce a steady flow of upgraded engine, chassis and electronics parts for the Marlboro Yamaha Team at pretty much every round of the series. And there are more new engine parts due at Motegi to improve the M1's speed around this stop-and-go circuit.
"We plan to have some new engine internals for Motegi," reveals Yoda. "These parts should give us a little more acceleration, which is very important at Motegi because it's a stop-and-go track, all braking and acceleration. Our bike is already not so bad on braking stability, so we hope that improving acceleration will give us some advantage.
"We also plan to equip Carlos with another new chassis, so he'll have both his bikes equipped with the same chassis, the first of which he received at Brno. He prefers this unit, while Max wants to continue with one of each, one new and one previous-spec chassis, because he finds that each has its good points for his style, depending on the track.
Yoda, who commutes from Europe to Japan and back again between every Continental round of the series, is used to hard toil and working under the spotlight, and he doesn't treat Japanese races any differently from other rounds of the MotoGP World Championship. "This is a home race for me but I don't feel any more pressure competing in Japan," he adds. "Maybe some of my bosses will come to Motegi but they will allow me to get on with my job, maybe they'll come and say 'Hello' and 'Good luck' on race morning, but that's all. The good thing is that I don't have to take a plane to this race, just catch a train!"
Yoda can be optimistic about Motegi. His M1 scored a front-row start and podium finish at April's season-opening Japanese GP and the bike is much improved since then. "We do have much bigger hopes than the last time we raced in Japan," affirms Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "We're in a much better position now, over the past few races we've always been up front, taking three pole positions in a row and finishing inside the top two every race. And Max is now second overall, so we'll be working very hard to keep him there. We will also be working very hard to give Carlos his first MotoGP win and it would be fantastic to do that at Motegi, in front of so many Yamaha personnel. Carlos deserves to be higher than fifth in the championship, so we want to help him move up.
"Motegi also starts a busy run of three races. Things happen very fast over the next few weeks, so it's vital that we maintain our focus. We don't really get a single day-off during this period, it's tough for everyone in the team, but we're ready and we're very motivated. Logistics are particularly crucial at the moment, so we've worked out a clever plan for engine maintenance, with some engines rebuilt at the factory in Iwata and others at our team base in Milan."
BIAGGI MOVES UP TO SECOND OVERALL
Max Biaggi rode to a brilliant second-place finish at Rio a fortnight back and the Italian needs another good result at Motegi to boost his bid for second place in the 2002 MotoGP World Championship. After a difficult start to the season, the Marlboro Yamaha Team man has scored one victory, six podium finishes and three pole positions to move him eight points clear of rival Tohru Ukawa (Honda).
"Finishing runner-up in the World Championship isn't as good as winning it, but second is the best I can do at the moment, so that's what we're focusing on," says Biaggi, who now can't overtake recently crowned World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda). "We have to work very hard over the last four races to make sure I can keep scoring more points than Ukawa. It won't be easy but I'm determined to finish this season in the best-possible way, hopefully by winning another race or two."
Biaggi knows how to perform at Motegi - he took pole here in 2000 and he led last year's race before falling. Like most riders he's not a great fan of the recently constructed circuit. "This is our second trip to Japan this year, first we go to a fantastic track, then we come here, to an okay track," adds the former 250 king who crashed out of April's wet Japanese GP at Suzuka. "There's not so much to say about Motegi, it's one of those so-so circuits, all stop-and-go corners. It's not got many very fast sections where you can really enjoy yourself but it can be quite technical, with quite a few downhill corner entries where you have to be a bit clever.
"The weekend will be hard work because none of the full-time MotoGP riders ever really test there, so we'll have a lot to do on set-up. Also, the weather can be unpredictable, which could lose us valuable dry-track time."
Biaggi finished third at Motegi in 2000 and ninth in the track's rain-affected inaugural World Championship event in April 1999.
CHECA AIMS AGAIN FOR HIS FIRST M1 WIN
Carlos Checa rode a remarkable race at Rio two weeks ago. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man didn't even finish the rain-soaked event but his ride will live on in the memory of race fans for a long, long while. Dead last at the start, he rocketed through the pack, lapping at an astonishing pace that took him past World Champion Valentino Rossi into the lead, only for him to fall a few corners later. His best lap was just seven per cent off the track record, when 12-15 per cent is the usual wet-to-dry track difference! Nevertheless, the Spaniard wants a dry race at Motegi.
"We've had two wet races in a row, so I pray for some sunshine in the Land of the Rising Sun!" he smiles. "Anyway, I have to forget what happened at Rio, all I have to remember is that we have a great bike that is more than ready to win. Everyone at Yamaha has worked so hard this year, and it would be great to pay them back with a great result in their country. Racing in Japan is always important, so I want to do my very best.
"I like Motegi, there's a lot of uphill and downhill action, so it's quite fun. Also there's a lot of hard acceleration, which is good when you've got a lot of power and I think our bike will be fast this weekend. The downhill braking sections are important and I feel that the M1's computer-controlled engine-braking system keeps the rear end more stable than other bikes, though sometimes that can push the front into turns. This is a busy time for the championship but three back-to-back races is no problem for us, we're fit and, anyway, all the races are in similar time zones."
Checa finished last year's Pacific GP in seventh place. He was fourth at Motegi in 2000 and sixth in the rain in 1999.
WHAT THE TEAM SAYS
Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief
"Max is now fighting for second overall and the best way to get more points to achieve his goal is to win more races, so we'll be working very hard with him to give him the best-possible set-up. Yamaha plan to give us some new engine parts for this race and we look forward to trying them in first practice. The overall character of Motegi is heavy braking and hard acceleration, so more engine performance would be great. But the M1 is already very good, Max has taken pole at two of the last three races and he's fast whatever the track, whatever the conditions. If things go okay, we're always in the fight for victory. We learn more about the bike with every race, we now have a good base set-up which is so useful, especially when we're racing at places where we've not tested."
Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's crew chief
"Since Brno we've found a good base set-up with the new chassis, which is very important to us. And we should have both bikes fitted with this chassis for Motegi, which will be a big help during practice and qualifying. Carlos and the M1 are now ready to win, wet or dry. As usual we will work smoothly on Friday and Saturday, aiming to get the bike right for this track, which means good braking stability and good speed out of the corners. We don't know how grippy the track will be, but after Estoril and Rio that shouldn't be a problem for us. I'm really looking forward to the last few GPs because I know Carlos is so close to winning his first race on this bike. My whole focus is to give him a perfect set-up to help him fight for pole from Friday, because if you're in the fight for pole, the bike is ready to win."
Twin Ring Motegi is stop-and-go in character with few high-speed corners, unlike fast and flowing Suzuka, venue for April's Japanese GP. Motegi features plenty of slow turns linked by medium-length straights which put the emphasis on braking and acceleration performance. Unlike Suzuka, most riders don't feel the track tests their riding skills to the limit. Motegi's topography and this event's autumn date make for unpredictable weather conditions. The venue's inaugural World Championship round, the 1999 Japanese GP, was run in pouring rain. Since then Motegi has hosted the Pacific round of the series.
The circuit, christened Twin Ring Motegi because it features both a Grand Prix track and an Indy oval, is one of the newer circuits on the Grand Prix calendar. Constructed by Honda in 1998 to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary, the venue is located in the hills to the north west of Tokyo, between the cities of Mito and Utsonomiya. Motegi's construction entailed a massive civil engineering project that included the razing of seven hills and the filling of two valleys.
Lap record: Valentino Rossi (Honda), 1m 50.591s 156.283kmh/97.110mph (2000)
Pole position 2001: Loris Capirossi (Honda), 1m 49.800s