Portugal GP: Yamaha Team preview

MIGHTY M1 MEN AIM TO WIN AGAIN Marlboro Yamaha Team stars Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa come to Estoril this weekend aiming to repeat Biaggi's stunning Czech Grand Prix win of two weeks ago. That victory proved that the team's mighty YZR-M1 is a...


Marlboro Yamaha Team stars Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa come to Estoril this weekend aiming to repeat Biaggi's stunning Czech Grand Prix win of two weeks ago.

That victory proved that the team's mighty YZR-M1 is a winning motorcycle, and the hard-working Marlboro Yamaha crew stayed on at Brno after the race to continue testing the latest upgrade parts from Yamaha and Ohlins. And they'll need all the engine and chassis performance they can get at Estoril, one of the most technically complex racetracks on the GP calendar.

Sunday's Marlboro Portuguese GP concludes the long run of European events that constitute the bulk of the MotoGP World Championship season. The MotoGP circus has been performing on the Continent since May's Spanish GP, but after Sunday's racing the action moves out of Europe, with riders and teams embarking on a gruelling intercontinental tour that takes them from Brazil to Japan and from Malaysia to Australia, all in the space of five weekends. They return to Europe for the season finale at Valencia on November 3.


Following the M1's maiden victory at Brno two weeks ago, the Marlboro Yamaha Team is now focusing on achieving further success in the final six races of the first four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship. At Brno Biaggi benefited from a new fairing and radiator, parts that contributed to his M1 being the fastest bike on the track, and this weekend the Italian and his Spanish team-mate Carlos Checa may benefit from improved chassis performance, thanks to an upgraded chassis first tried at Brno, and new Ohlins front forks.

"We've now achieved our first target, to win a race, now we want to win more at the last six Grands Prix," proclaims Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "That first win has given a good boost to everyone in the team and at Yamaha. It's also very good for Max, he was fantastic at Brno, taking pole position and then leading all the way under some real pressure. And I think his win should also boost Carlos.

"Estoril is one of the tracks where we had a hard time during winter testing, but it's also where we started to learn the correct way to develop the M1, so it should be interesting to see how far we've come since we tested there in February.

"I think Estoril will be harder for the four-strokes than Brno, but with one win behind us, I think we can have a good weekend if everything goes to plan. Of course, we haven't stopped working since the win, we tested our new chassis and front suspension at Brno and we'll now see if they suit Estoril."

YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda, who stood atop the Brno podium with Biaggi, also expects a challenging weekend in Portugal. "Estoril is the most difficult track for set-up, even more difficult than Jerez," he says. "You need a bike that does everything well - hard braking, good turning, good cornering, good low-rpm power and good top speed. But after Brno I hope that we can challenge again.

"Looking at the last six races, I think that we will have our best chance at tracks that are hardest on tyres, like Sepang and Phillip Island. It seems that our bike is more gentle on tyres than the Honda. Biaggi used the same tyre as Valentino Rossi at Brno, no problem. The M1 has good traction and its power delivery is more gentle on tyres."


Max Biaggi's masterful performance at the Czech GP has brought him to within six points of second overall in the MotoGP World Championship. After a steady start to the 2002 season, the Italian hasn't finished outside the top four in seven GPs, and his Brno win was preceded by three runner-up results, at the Italian, British and German GPs. Not only that, the Marlboro Yamaha Team rider scored a landmark 50th pole position at Brno, his second of the year.

"Brno was a good day, I tried my best for the team and I offered my thanks to them for helping me to that win," says Biaggi. "At the beginning of this year we weren't able to fight for victory but Yamaha made a great recovery, the bike improved and now we're in the fight for winning races. It's never easy to build a good bike, if it was, everyone would have good bikes!"

Biaggi's Brno success also laid to rest the memory of his crash during last year's Czech GP, which blunted his push towards the 2001 500 crown. And he's hoping for a similar change of fortune at Estoril, where he slid off last year, remounting to finish fifth. The Portuguese venue, situated not far from the Atlantic ocean, is often lashed by strong winds which can blow dust and sand onto the tarmac, resulting in sudden and unexpected loss of grip.

"The worst thing about the track is the wind," adds Biaggi. "It's often very windy in this area, and quite dusty too, so when the wind blows, sand and dust get thrown onto the track, which makes the surface very slippery. It's unpredictable too, because one lap there might not be dust at a certain corner, and the next lap there is dust, and of course, you can't see it. This makes it complicated to work on tyre choice with my Michelin engineer Daniel Croispine, because you never really know where you are with the grip level.

"The track layout is so-so, Estoril isn't bad but it's not my favourite. I like the final few corners because they're quite fast. But the slowest corner just before that section is so slow, you can't even believe how slow!"

Biaggi started the 2001 Marlboro Portuguese GP from pole position. He finished the previous year's Portuguese GP in fourth position.


Spanish favourite Carlos Checa contests the third of four GPs on the Iberian peninsula this weekend. And the Marlboro Yamaha Team man is determined to put himself back into the hunt for victory after a couple of frustrating races in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Two weeks ago at Brno, Checa rode to a fifth-place result, equalling his lowliest finish of the season. And at July's German GP he was fourth, albeit just 2.3 seconds away from victory.

"We had a few set-up problems at Brno," explains Checa, currently fourth in the 2002 MotoGP World Championship. "We lost our way with settings on the modified chassis, so we stayed on after the race to test the chassis, plus new front forks and some new Michelin tyres. We just needed more time to evaluate the full range of different settings, and now that we've done that, we should be in better shape for Estoril."

Checa has already proved that he can run up front aboard the M1. He's so far scored three podium finishes on the bike - at the Japanese, Catalan and Dutch GPs - and he's led several races this year. Now he wants to follow Max Biaggi's Brno win with his own success. But he knows that Estoril won't be the easiest of races for the 210bhp-plus M1. The track features several ultra-slow corners, which make it the slowest circuit on the GP calendar, and these corners will suit the 500 two-strokes more than the big-bore four-strokes.

"Estoril is bumpy and the slow section is very slow," he adds. "I think the slowest part is better for go-karts than MotoGP bikes! We will have to work very hard to find a set-up that will give me a good feeling and allow me to be very fast. We need to be as quick as possible through all the slow corners, then use the advantages of our bike through the faster part of the circuit. For sure, the bike will be much better than when we tested at Estoril in February, we've come a long way since then."

Checa finished fourth in last year's Marlboro Portuguese Grand Prix, after qualifying in eighth position. In 2000 he rode to 12th, struggling with the strong winds that affected that year's event.


Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"Yamaha have worked so hard since the start of the season, they really deserved to get their first win with the M1 at Brno. But that race is already in the past, we're looking ahead to Estoril. We worked with the new chassis and forks during tests after Brno and we hope these may help at the next races. The Estoril track has many contrasting features, so we have to work at finding the best compromise. That doesn't mean changing the whole set-up, you just work out which part of the track is the biggest problem, work to fix that, then go on to the next problem."

Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"After Brno we need to improve our overall set-up. Estoril will be interesting for us, a real challenge, because there's many different kinds of corners at this track. From the start we will focus on getting the bike working well for hard braking and for the slow turns, then we'll go on from there, hoping all the time that the track doesn't get too dusty. It's not the kind of circuit where the four-strokes will be able to make the best of their advantages, so I think we could have a bit of a battle with the two-strokes during the weekend."


Estoril is the slowest circuit on the GP calendar, with a lap record of less than 150kmh. Nevertheless the track presents a real challenge to riders and engineers. The contrast between very slow and very fast corners demands some tricky compromises in chassis set-up, with riders requiring manoeuvrability in the tight corners and stability in the sweepers. These two characteristics aren't mutually exclusive but it's not easy to create a motorcycle that excels in both situations, so compromise is the only answer. It's the same with the engine - the contrast between the fast start-finish straight and the many slow-speed corners requires maximum peak horsepower as well as gentle low-rev performance.

But perhaps the greatest concern for riders is the track's proximity to the Atlantic. High-speed winds whip off the ocean, blowing bikes and riders off course, and throwing dust onto the circuit, with potentially disastrous results.

Estoril hosts its third Grand Prix this weekend, though this is the fifth Portuguese GP. The nation's first two GPs were held at Spanish tracks in 1987 and 1988, because Estoril failed stringent track safety standards.

4.182km/2.599 miles
Lap record: Loris Capirossi (Honda), 1m 40.683s. 149.530kmh/92.914mph


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Phillip Island