Portuguese GP MTY qualifying one

Blustery, high-speed winds dominated the first-ever MotoGP qualifying session at Estoril this afternoon, with Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa riding conservatively to tenth and 13th places on the provisional grid. In a ...

Blustery, high-speed winds dominated the first-ever MotoGP qualifying session at Estoril this afternoon, with Marlboro Yamaha Team duo Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa riding conservatively to tenth and 13th places on the provisional grid. In a topsy-turvy session, positions changed frequently, Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) claiming provisional pole position in the final minutes, moments after Biaggi slid off, caught out by sand blown onto the track.

"The wind makes it pretty risky out there and I think both our guys have been thinking about staying fit for Sunday," said Marlboro Yamaha Team manager Geoff Crust. "There was no point taking big risks out there, Max showed how easy it is to get caught out, and the main thing is that they were both pretty consistent. It doesn't look like the weather's going to change over the next few days but the Yamaha is working well here, with three of them in the top four, so I'm pretty confident we'll be closer to the front tomorrow."

Marlboro Yamaha Team star Max Biaggi led the early stages of the session, then slipped down the order before mounting a late attack, ruined by the windy conditions. The strong winds have a doubly adverse effect on riding, causing serious instability as well as a major loss in grip, caused by dust and sand blown onto the track surface.

"Conditions were difficult today," said the Italian, fresh from his superb win at Brno two weeks ago. "Near the end of the session I was on a fast lap but there must've been a lot of sand at the end of the straight. I skidded on the sand and slid off when I ran off the track. Without that I would be much higher than tenth. I just had time to get out on my other bike but it wasn't set up so well. On my first machine we're running a set-up similar to what we ran when we tested here pre-season and it's working well. Tomorrow will be better, particularly if it's less windy and less sandy."

Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa completed the first qualifying session of the Marlboro Portuguese GP in a safe and steady 13th spot, less than a second off pole. Unwilling to push too hard in the risky conditions, the Spaniard aims to improve his grid position tomorrow.

"The wind is bad everywhere and bad for everyone," said Checa, currently third in the World Championship. "The biggest problem is that it's not constant and that can catch you out, especially through the fast right behind the pits, where the front goes light and the bike gets really unstable. Since this morning we've worked at improving rear-end contact feeling and overall balance. It's better now, though I still didn't feel totally confident to push 100 per cent at the end of the session. Tomorrow we should be able to push harder."

World Championship leader Kenny Roberts spent much of the session hanging around in tenth place, saving his best for last, when he comfortably took pole off Regis Laconi (Yamaha), who ended up third. His main title rival Valentino Rossi (Honda) languishes in 17th "We had problems with one bike, we couldn't make it work, so we switched to the other, but struggled with that too," said the American. "Then we changed tyres and it went real good, and that was with a race set-up."

Third at Brno a fortnight back, Garry McCoy (Yamaha) is back to his best, grabbing provisional second place from team-mate Laconi at the very end of the session. And the Aussie did it with typical bravery. "I hate the wind," he said. "I was holding full gas down the straight and had to ride down the middle of the track just to stay on the black stuff." <pre> QUALIFYING 1 1. Kenny Roberts (USA) Telefonica Movistar SUZUKI 1'41.809 2. Garry McCoy (AUS) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM 1'42.013 3. Regis Laconi (FRA) Red Bull YAMAHA WCM 1'42.144 4. Norick Abe (JPN) Antena 3 YAMAHA D'Antin 1'42.187

10. MAX BIAGGI (ITA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'42.383 13. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Marlboro YAMAHA Team 1'42.777

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Garry McCoy , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Kenny Roberts Jr. , Laconi Régis