Portugal: Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team preview

Portuguese Grand Prix Estoril, Portugal September 3, 4, 5 2004 ESTORIL NEXT PORT OF CALL FOR ROSSI AND CHECA Having taken half of the available race wins in the 2004 MotoGP championship so far, the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team has proven ...

Portuguese Grand Prix
Estoril, Portugal
September 3, 4, 5 2004


Having taken half of the available race wins in the 2004 MotoGP championship so far, the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team has proven its abilities with aplomb over the opening ten races. On the approach to the 11th, team riders Valentino Rossi and Carlos Checa are confident in the knowledge that the Yamaha YZR-M1 has proven itself to be a genuine championship contender, despite an all-time high standard of entries in the premier motorcycle racing category.

After a recent test at the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic, the pairing have gleaned an even closer understanding of the M1's character and are relishing the prospect of the forthcoming Estoril race.

World Champion for the past three years, Rossi has been nothing short of a sensation since his move into the Yamaha factory set-up. The 25 year-old Italian, who resides in London, has scored five wins in ten starts so far, and heads the championship table. He leads by 17 points over Honda rider Sete Gibernau, while his Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team-mate Carlos Checa sits seventh overall, his personal highpoint a second place at the Le Mans race in May.

Checa has great experience of all specifications and ages of the impressive four-cylinder M1, having been in the team since before the inception of the four-stroke MotoGP category in 2002. The 31-year-old Spaniard, also a London resident in these days of global commuting, has enjoyed former success at Estoril, having taken pole position and an eventual second place there in 2002.

Rossi, for his part, is now the third most successful premier class rider in history with 38 race wins, despite his relatively tender years. More significantly for this forthcoming race he has crowned himself King of Estoril in recent years. The former 125cc and 250cc champion has taken the last three Portuguese MotoGP/500cc race wins in succession.


Given his peerless ability to conjure wins out of supposedly difficult situations, Rossi will be going for win number six of his debut Yamaha season in Portugal. His 50% success rate in the winning stakes did not include victory at the last race in Brno, but it was another valuable learning experience for the most renowned rider on the planet.

"Things were going well in Brno until we had some rear tyre problems during the race, but I think that Estoril should be a circuit we can do well at," said Rossi, shortly before adding a note of caution. "Having said that, it seems each time we go to a circuit we think we can do well at the opposite happens, and vice versa."

Like almost every circuit this year, Estoril will present Rossi with a new challenge. "It's my first time there with the M1 so, like Brno, it will mean using every available moment to work hard on set-up. Honda was very strong in Brno and I'm sure the race will be tight again. The points gap has reduced so it's even more pressure to hold onto a points advantage in Estoril."

Rossi, who has a handy 17 point advantage with six races remaining stated, "The Estoril track is full of bumps and we have had some problems with this bike on bumps so I hope we can find a good direction early on during the weekend. Apart from Motegi I think all the tracks we have left we have a good chance at, although obviously no one has any idea what Qatar is going to be like. I love all the other tracks we have left so I will try my hardest to fight for the championship."


Despite putting up some excellent showings in both qualifying and races at Estoril in previous seasons, Checa finds the Estoril experience one which is bittersweet.. "Although I've had some quite good results in Estoril it's not one of my favourite tracks," he affirmed. "It's quite safe but the last part of the track is slippery, and it's quite slow. You use only about 10% of the potential of the bike in that part but unfortunately it's not possible to switch from a MotoGP bike to a scooter, which is what it feels like you should be doing!"

The circuit's contrasting character is the main factor Checa has to take into account. "The last part's really slow, and the track is quite bumpy with a long straight. At this point of the season the bike is feeling quite good anywhere that the track is good quality. Brazil has been the worst race for us so far, and I also had a disappointment in Germany when I fell off but the bike has been feeling really good since Brazil. I need to keep consistency during the race from now until the end."


After some magnificent performances from his riders and his team in this most competitive year imaginable, Team Director Davide Brivio looks to Estoril as another chance for his Yamaha charges to shine. The reasons for his confidence are not just recent race results, but a good showing in an important test post-Brno Grand Prix.

"We stayed on at Brno for a two day test and it had a very positive outcome," declared Brivio. "We continued to work on engine management maps and settings. Our lap times were very good on Michelin race tyres, even if some of the ones we used were softer."

Estoril, the slowest circuit on the GP calendar, nonetheless features both fast and slow corners, and a long main straight. "Estoril can be a good track for us because most of the circuit is corners and chicanes and the M1 suits this type of circuit," said Brivio. "I think we can do well there. Carlos was on pole in 2002 so it's a place he obviously gets on with. After the Brno test we go to Portugal with more information about the machine, especially on the engine management side. We look forward to maintaining our challenge, and most importantly keeping our lead in the championship."


Situated only seven kilometres from the Portuguese coast, the Autodromo Fernada Pires de Silva is frequently blessed and cursed by the changing moods of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. At times wet and frequently windy, the 4.182km hilltop circuit is often a hostage of the elements; with accurate prediction of the race weekend weather a near impossibility.

Estoril is a circuit of extreme contrasts. One of the lengthiest main straights in MotoGP allows almost 200mph speeds to be reached and yet the chicane is possibly the slowest corner on the 16-round MotoGP trail. The track itself has the slowest average speed, Rossi's lap record barely over 150kmph. The 200kmph turn five kink and final Parabolica corner are two of the toughest tests of any rider and machine's cornering prowess, yet the throttle is seldom overworked on the extensively twisty and tortuous infield sections, riddled as they are by a host of second and third gear bends.

With such contrasting challenges to overcome, the team technicians and Michelin tyre technicians have no choice but to opt for compromise settings. Suspension front and rear has to be generally set to work best towards the end of the race, to aid the tyres after such an extensive workout on the nine right and four left hand corners.

With a lot of transient throttle needed to negotiate the more twisty sections of the circuit good engine mapping and sweet throttle response is a must at Estoril. The extensive work put in at the recent Brno tests have delivered progress of the team in that specific regard, just in time to tackle the nuances and peculiarities of the changeable Estoril track.


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Sete Gibernau , Davide Brivio