Spanish GP: Yamaha Team preview

Inside Line The Marlboro GP News Bulletin No 3 Spanish Grand Prix Jerez May 3/4/5 2002 The mighty M1 hits Europe. Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi get to race the awesome new YZR-M1 in Europe for the first time this...

Inside Line
The Marlboro GP News Bulletin No 3

Spanish Grand Prix
May 3/4/5 2002

The mighty M1 hits Europe.

Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi get to race the awesome new YZR-M1 in Europe for the first time this weekend, and the pair couldn't have asked for a better event than Jerez for the bike's Continental debut.

The Spanish Grand Prix attracts more fans than any other event in the 16-round MotoGP World Championship, with up to 200,000 people flocking through the gates of the Andalucian venue over the three days of practice and racing. And this weekend the throng will be treated to a new and thrilling sound - the deafening bellow of the new MotoGP four-strokes mixing with the spine-tingling scream of the 500 two-strokes that have ruled at Jerez since the circuit's first GP in 1987.

Spanish star Checa can rely on the partisan crowd putting its considerable voice behind him this weekend. The hard-riding local currently lies second in the World Championship behind series leader Valentino Rossi (Honda) after typically charging rides at the first two GPs in Japan and South Africa. His aim on Sunday is to climb the podium again, just like he did at the Spanish GP two years ago. Biaggi will also be up for a great result on Sunday. The Italian qualified on the front row at Welkom two weeks ago but his race was spoiled by a technical problem and a bad start.

After Jerez the MotoGP action shifts towards northern Europe for the French GP at Le Mans on May 19 and then south again for the Italian GP at Mugello on June 2. The season ends at Valencia on November 3.

Few GP riders have more experience of racing on home tarmac than Carlos Checa who gets to race three times a season in front of his home fans, and for good measure, gets a fourth outing on the Iberian peninsula at September's Portuguese GP. The Spanish get more than their fair share of GP events because the nation is nuts about motorcycle racing and crazy about Checa too. As Spain's number one rider the affable 29-year old can count on massive support this weekend, when he aims to continue his superb start to the first-ever MotoGP World Championship.

Checa goes into round three of the series lying second overall after a brilliant ride to third in the season-opening Japanese GP, for which he'd qualified on the front row, and a dogged ride to fifth in South Africa two weeks ago. On Sunday the YZR-M1 rider wants another podium finish, not just to boost his series position but also to give his legions of fans something to cheer about.

"It's Spain, I'm Spanish, so this weekend is a big deal for me," he says. "Also I like the track, every part of it, I think it's one of the most enjoyable circuits we use because there's a good variety of corners and you're working with the bike all the time. It's exciting."

Checa is indeed working hard with his bike because the awesome M1 is the fastest, most powerful machine he's ever raced. And he's not only toiling on the track, he's also heavily involved with the bike's off-track development. As one of the new breed of MotoGP four-strokes, the M1 has only just started its racing career, and it is part of Checa's job to help Yamaha improve and develop the bike as fast as possible.

"Although I'm happy with the job we've done so far, I won't be really happy until we're fighting for race wins," he says. "Everyone at Yamaha and within the team is working very hard and I know the M1 will get better. The good thing at Welkom was that the bike's performance was very stable all the way through the race, now we just need to increase the level of performance. We will work very hard on settings at Jerez because it's a technical track where you need the bike to be set up very well, so you can turn, flick and open the gas as quickly as possible. It's also hard on braking and at the moment that's one of our weaker areas, so we'll be working on that too. I really want to be quick at Jerez, so I've also got to find the way to ride the bike as fast as possible."

Max Biaggi hopes that the start of the European sector of the first-ever MotoGP World Championship will bring him a change of fortune. The Italian star has already proved his speed aboard Yamaha's mighty YZR-M1 at the first two championship rounds, qualifying on the front row at Welkom a fortnight back and in fifth place at Suzuka a month ago, just two tenths off pole.

Unfortunately the Marlboro Yamaha Team man's luck deserted him on race day at both events. He slid out of the rain-drenched Japanese GP, where nearly half the grid ended up falling down, while clutch problems slowed his getaway in South Africa, where he recovered to finish ninth. At Jerez, where he won a 250 GP in 1996 and taken pole position in the premier class in 2000, he hopes Sunday will be a happier day.

But the Spanish GP isn't just about Sunday - Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying will be of vital importance as Biaggi works to further improve the M1. One of his main aims over the weekend will be to continue developing Yamaha's radical electronically controlled hydraulic engine-braking system which is designed to offer free-flowing performance into corners. Biaggi and team-mate Checa first tested the system at Valencia in February and have made great strides forward since then. Biaggi will also be working at improving the M1's chassis to help him increase his corner speed and thereby his overall cornering performance. Yamaha are already working on another new chassis for the M1, to give Biaggi exactly the kind of handling characteristics he desires, though the unit isn't likely to be ready until some time next month.

"Yamaha's engineers and me are working in the same direction now, so I'm just waiting for the new parts we need to make the difference," he says. "We're hoping to get what we need pretty soon, all I want is a very competitive machine, something that's capable of winning Grands Prix."

Like most of their MotoGP rivals, the Marlboro Yamaha Team haven't tested at Jerez this year, so Biaggi won't know exactly what to expect until he's well into day one of practice and qualifying. "At some tracks I expect we'll be closer to the front of the pack than we've been so far and at others we may be further away," he adds. "I'm looking to win races, so it's always tough when you're not doing that. At the moment we have room to improve, but the good thing is that Yamaha and the team are working very hard to allow me to achieve my goals."


Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's chief engineer
"Carlos did a great job at Welkom. He rode at his maximum from the first lap to the last, he never gave up, not even under great pressure from McCoy and Katoh," says the Spaniard who has been friends with Checa for a dozen years. "At Jerez we'll work with what we've got and though we're close to the maximum of our current spec, I think we can make further improvements by making a better job of combining our chassis set-up with the engine-braking system. That's our target for Jerez. And while we continue to work on set-up sthe most important job for Carlos is to keep giving good feedback to the Japanese so that they can continue developing the M1."

Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer
"Our main focus at the moment is to keep developing Yamaha's electronically controlled hydraulic engine braking system," says the Italian, who has worked in GPs since the late sixties. "At the moment Max can't ride as deeps as he wants into corners and if he can't do that then he can't improve his turn-in into corners. That's hurting him all the way through corners, which is hurting his lap times. If we can improve the system for him he'll be able to ride faster and fight better. We are hoping to get some update parts for the system in Spain. Jerez is one of those tracks with a bit of everything: fast corners, slow corners and heavy braking, so you need all aspects of the bike to be as good as possible."

Constructed in 1986, Jerez hosted its first Grand Prix the following year and has remained on the World Championship calendar ever since. Through the nineties the event grew to become the most popular GP of all.

Riders love the Andalucian venue because it's a track that rewards rider talent over machine performance. Many of the circuit's 13 corners flow into one another, placing the emphasis on smooth, neat riding and stable, all-round machine performance. The circuit character places particular emphasis on front-tyre grip, though the many slow-speed turns also require MotoGP riders to control wheelspin as they power out of the corners. This year, however, the track's grip character is likely to be different, since Jerez was resurfaced at the end of 2001. And a total reconstruction of the circuit's infrastructure is still underway.

4.423km/2.748 miles

Lap record:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m 43.779s, 153.429kmh/95.336mph


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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi