MotoGP 500 World Championship Round thirteen: Spanish Grand Prix Valencia, September 15/16/17 2000 Roberts & Rossi duke it out in Spain The 500 World Championship takes another step towards its climax at Valencia this weekend, with the title...
Round thirteen: Spanish Grand Prix
Valencia, September 15/16/17 2000
Roberts & Rossi duke it out in Spain
The 500 World Championship takes another step towards its climax at Valencia this weekend, with the title contest turning into a straight duel between two sons of former GP stars - Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) and Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin). Series leader Roberts, eldest son of three-time 500 champ King Kenny Roberts, and Rossi, only son of former 250 GP winner Graziano, are currently separated by 46 points with four races to go. Sunday's race, the last in Europe before three final 'flyaway' events and the year's third GP in Spain, is therefore likely to be a pivotal moment in the 2000 500 World Championship.
Roberts comes to Valencia having slightly increased his advantage over Rossi in Portugal a fortnight ago. Two weeks before that, in the Czech Republic, Rossi had narrowed the gap, so the battle for the championship is a seesaw affair and anything can happen. After Sunday the American and Italian take their battle around the globe for next month's final three races of the year, at Rio in Brazil, Motegi in Japan and Phillip Island in Australia.
The riders and the track
This weekend Valencia plays host to the Grand Prix circus for the second time, following last September's inaugural GP at the track. First-time winner Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) won that race, run in the damp, with Kenny Roberts second and Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) third. Tyre choice was a crucial factor in the tricky conditions, Laconi choosing an intermediate front/slick rear combination, and the top-ten finishers all running Michelins.
The event is one of this season's three GPs in Spain, and the largely Spanish crowd will be hoping that its home-grown heroes will do better at Valencia this year than last. Reigning World Champion Alex Crivillé (Repsol Honda-Michelin) crashed out of last September's race, while Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) finished fifth and Sete Gibernau (Repsol Honda-Michelin) ninth.
This season has been an up-and-down affair for all three Spanish stars, Checa running strong in the first six races, Crivillé winning just once and Gibernau struggling to repeat the speed that saw him take pole position at the season-opening South African GP. In fact Gibernau showed his best form since that outing at the recent Portuguese GP, leading the early laps and fighting for a top-three finish until he fell. The 26-year-old also tumbled out of April's Spanish GP and June's Catalan GP and is thus determined to score well in his last outing of the year on Spanish tarmac.
"It has been a tough year," admits Gibernau. "We've had a few races where it looked like things were going to go good but we've been coming back from some problems. I've just kept my head down and worked hard. We need some consistency from the machine, then we'll be back up front."
Like his 500 rivals, Gibernau knows that Valencia may be GP racing's slowest circuit but it is anything but easy. The short main straight and slow, tight turns require low gearing, which makes a 190bhp more fearsome than ever to control.
"Valencia is fun but tricky," he says. "It can catch you out easy because there's so many slow corners. It's not the kind of place where you really feel the power and speed of a 500, but there's a lot of low-gear acceleration and that's always hard work."
"It's a real stop-and-go circuit and you need a front tyre that gets you stopped and turned, so you can transfer weight to the rear as soon as possible. Through most of the track you don't need both tyres to grip together, because the corners are so short. You just need good weight transfer, from back to front and from front to back."
"I guess it's a little like Estoril. You need a front that's precise and doesn't move too much when you go in on the brakes, but you also want a fairly soft compound. That means it squirms around in the corner and that gives you more feeling, so you've got more control."
"There are a couple of corners where you're on the edge of the tyres for a while. The last corner is the real turn, it's adverse camber and you need tyres that help you get the bike turned, otherwise you go wide. But the front isn't a real concern here because you're on the throttle through most of the corner, so the weight is on the back, so the front doesn't push."
"You also need a good contact feeling with the rear, so you want a fairly soft rear-tyre construction. It may move around but that doesn't matter because you want to feel the tyre so you can keep opening the throttle out of the turns and keep going forward, even when the tyre starts to spin. You especially need feeling because most of the corners are slow and that's where highsides can happen. Highsides are less likely in fast corners because you're already at the top of the power range, it's the engine torque out of slower turns that causes highsides."
Michelin's solution to the challenge of Valencia
Michelin riders dominated last year's race at Valencia, and since all riders in the 500 class now choose the French tyres, they are set to dominate once again this weekend. But that doesn't mean that Michelin's engineers will have anything like an easy time. As always, they work closely with their team partners to choose the best tyres for Sunday's race and gather vital data for the further development of the brand's racing and street tyres.
Although GP riders have only raced once at Valencia, most of them tested at the track during February when Carlos Checa was quickest. Aprilia also tried to test at the track following June's Catalan GP but found it too slippery.
"Last year the surface was dirty and slippery and, after what happened to Aprilia, I expect the same this time," says Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "The grip should improve day by day as the track gets used more, so long as it doesn't rain."
Anti-clockwise Valencia puts a lot of heat and stress into the rear tyre, especially the left side, because the track consists of many tight turns bunched closely together. Morelli thus expects more riders than usual to concentrate on Michelin's 16.5in rear, instead of the traditionally more popular 17in. At Estoril two weeks ago, the first five riders all used 16.5in rears, more than ever before. And at Valencia last year, the 16.5 rear scored its first victory in several years.
"I think this race will be the same," Morelli adds. "With so many slow corners, riders spend a lot of time accelerating from low gears, spinning and sliding the rear, controlling things with the throttle. That makes the tyre work very hard and the 16.5 runs cooler because the contact patch is slightly larger at maximum lean and because the tyre has a better repartition of pressure. With any tyre, you have some areas of the contact patch that run a higher pressure than others do. You want the difference between the highs and lows to be as small as possible and the 16.5 gives a cooler and more even spread of temperature, so riders can run a softer tyre, to give them better race-long grip. We will also have dual-compound rears at Valencia, with a harder left side".
"Riders need a grippy front at Valencia, so they can get plenty of feel through all the slow turns. But they also need quite a hard construction, since they're doing a lot of braking into the turns and don't want too much deflection from the tyre."
Valencia tyre information
Michelin transports approximately 2400 tyres to Valencia this weekend - 1800 slicks and 600 rain/intermediate tyres.
A total of 17 Michelin staff looks after the needs of riders - six technicians, nine fitters, one manager and a co-ordinator. And Michelin has five juggernauts at the track - four tyre transporters and one office/fitting equipment truck.
Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin)1m42.473s, 140.700kmh (1999 race run in damp conditions)
Pole position 1999
Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), 1m 36.132s
Recent winners of the Grand Prix of Valencia
1999 Regis Laconi (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin), 53m 23.825s (First GP at track, run in damp conditions)
<pre> Provisional positions
1 - Kenny Roberts (Suzuki-Michelin) 194 points 2 - Valentino Rossi (Honda-Michelin) 148 points 3 - Carlos Checa (Yamaha-Michelin) 132 points 4 - Loris Capirossi (Honda-Michelin) 126 points 5 - Norick Abe (Yamaha-Michelin) 113 points 6 - Alex Barros (Honda-Michelin) 110 points 7 - Garry McCoy (Yamaha-Michelin) 109 points 8 - Alex Crivillé (Honda-Michelin) 107 points 9 - Max Biaggi (Yamaha-Michelin) 102 points 10 - Nobuatsu Aoki (Suzuki-Michelin) 86 points 11 - Tadayuki Okada (Honda-Michelin) 80 points 12 - Régis Laconi (Yamaha-Michelin) 78 points 13 - Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh (Honda-Michelin) 68 points 14 - Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia-Michelin) 66 points 15 - Sete Gibernau (Honda-Michelin) 51 points 16 - Tetsuya Harada (Aprilia-Michelin) 30 points 17 - David De Gea (Modenas-Michelin) 18 points
N° Rider Team 1 Alex Crivillé Repsol YPF Honda Team 2 Kenny Roberts Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 4 Max Biaggi Marlboro Yamaha Team 5 Sete Gibernau Repsol YPF Honda Team 6 Norifumi Abe Antena 3 Yamaha - D'Antin 7 Carlos Checa Marlboro Yamaha Team 8 Tadayuki Okada Repsol YPF Honda Team 9 Nobuatsu Aoki Telefonica Movistar Suzuki 10 Alex Barros Emerson Honda Pons 11 David De Gea Proton KR Modenas Team 15 Yoshiteru Konishi Technical Sport Racing 17 Jurgen v.d. Goorbergh Rizla Honda 18 Sébastien Legrelle Tecmas Honda Elf 20 Phil Giles Sabre Sport 24 Garry McCoy Red Bull Yamaha WCM 25 José Luis Cardoso Maxon Dee Cee Jeans 31 Tetsuya Harada Blu Aprilia Team 43 Paolo Tessari Team Paton * 46 Valentino Rossi Nastro Azzurro Honda 55 Régis Laconi Red Bull Yamaha WCM 65 Loris Capirossi Emerson Honda Pons 99 Jeremy McWilliams Blu Aprilia Team
* On few european races