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Oct 7, 2002

Marlboro Yamaha Previews Malaysian Grand Prix

From a press release:<BR><BR>MARLBORO YAMAHA TEAM GRAND PRIX PREVIEW<BR><BR>MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, SEPANG<BR>October 11/12/13 2002<BR><BR>MARLBORO YAMAHA MEN CHASE GLORY IN THE TROPICS<BR>The MotoGP circus makes a flying visit to Malaysia this week for the 14th race of this year's 16-round World Championship. Sepang will be a particularly challenging event for the Marlboro Yamaha Team and its MotoGP rivals and not only because of the stifling tropical weather. The Grand Prix is the middle event of a gruelling run of three back-to-back GPs, following last Sunday's Pacific GP in Japan and preceding next weekend's Australian GP. Riders and bikes only arrived at the nearby KLIA airport on Monday night/Tuesday morning and will be heading back to KLIA on Sunday evening for the southward dash to Phillip Island.<BR><BR>Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa will get barely a moment's rest during their stay in Malaysia but they are both highly motivated for this race at Sepang, where they both got to ride the YZR-M1 for the very first time in December 2000. Sunday's race will be crucial for both riders - Biaggi is currently chasing second overall while Checa is lying fifth and aiming to improve.<BR><BR>The 2002 MotoGP season concludes a fortnight after the Australian GP, at Valencia in Spain on November 3.<BR><BR><BR>THE HEAT IS ON FOR EVER-IMPROVING M1<BR>This weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix is generally recognised as the toughest event of the MotoGP season - tough on bikes, tough on tyres, tough on riders, tough on everyone. With ambient temperatures hovering in the mid-thirties (C) and humidity levels often over 80 percent, Sepang stretches riders to the limit on the scorching track and subjects mechanics to toiling on boiling motorcycles in the stifling pits.<BR><BR>"The conditions are difficult for everyone, especially for the riders, but also for the people working on the bikes," says Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio. "But we've been there before, we know what to expect and we're ready for it. I think this race will be particularly interesting because we'll be able to see how far we've come since we tested here last December. Those tests were one of the team's first real sessions with the M1, so it'll be great to check our progress in terms of lap times.<BR><BR>"For sure, Sepang will be a four-stroke track, with two long straights and a lot of fast, open corners, so I think we can expect to see the 500 lap record well and truly beaten. I think we have a good chance to fight for victory this weekend, our bike has been good for some while now, and our engine performance continues to improve."<BR><BR>If this weekend is gruelling for everyone in pit lane, it will be especially demanding for YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda who has two extra riders to look after. Yamaha has equipped Tech 3 riders Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano with one M1 apiece for the last three races of the season.<BR><BR>"This will be a very busy weekend for all Yamaha racing staff!" smiles Yoda, a man who knows the meaning of hard work, having been shuttling back and forth between Europe and Japan all summer. "We now have two more M1 riders, but this is good for us because it delivers more feedback, which allows us to test more solutions and make faster development progress, though, of course, the Marlboro Yamaha Team remains Yamaha's number one priority. The bikes that Jacque and Nakano will ride will be the same spec as the machine used by Max to win at Brno in August."<BR><BR>"Sepang is a significant race for us because it was here that Max and Carlos tested the M1 for the very first time in December 2000, when our Japanese test riders were doing most of the riding. I think our lap times from that test were around 2m 06s, last December we did 04s and I think we can do high threes in qualifying this weekend.<BR><BR>"This is one of the toughest tracks for rear tyres, so we will work throughout practice to manage tyre life to the best effect, setting up the bike to be gentler with the rear tyre. We also have some chassis parts to try, we had these parts at Motegi but weren't able to try them there. Otherwise, we won't be making any big changes to our set-up. Since Brno we've had a good base set-up, so I'm confident we can have another good weekend."<BR><BR>BIAGGI STILL AIMING FOR SECOND OVERALL<BR>Max Biaggi needs a good points haul at Sepang this weekend to re-ignite his bid for runner-up spot in the first-ever four-stroke-based MotoGP World Championship. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man moved into second place following last month's rain-lashed Rio Grand Prix but slipped five points behind rival Tohru Ukawa (Honda) at Motegi last Sunday, after a risky front-tyre choice went wrong and forced him into the pits.<BR><BR>The DNF was a major blow for Biaggi, who had scored top-two finishes at four of the previous five GPs, including a first win for the M1 at August's Czech GP. Nevertheless, the hard-riding Italian is confident of getting back up front this weekend, using the ever-improving M1's performance to maximum effect at this challenging high-speed track. "The bike is very competitive now," he says. "At the beginning of the season we weren't competitive, after a few races we were competitive and since then the bike has grown up with us race by race."<BR><BR>This weekend Biaggi is likely to concentrate on the latest-spec M1 chassis, one of a whole package of performance-enhancing parts introduced race by race since the start of the season. This particular chassis arrived in August, but Biaggi only raced it for the first time at Motegi. He hopes he'll be able to use it to better effect in Malaysia.<BR><BR>"Sepang is a great track but the weather conditions can make life hard for everyone, not just the riders," says Biaggi. "It's so hot and humid that the mechanics and technicians have a tough time too, especially since they're working on red-hot bikes. The conditions make the whole experience more intense, but personally I don't mind the heat, in fact I generally race well in these conditions.<BR><BR>"The track is very wide, wider than anywhere else we race, so you don't need all of the track, you don't go white line to white line, so it's difficult to find the right line all the time. But the width does make it easier for overtaking."<BR><BR>Although Biaggi enjoys the challenging layout of Sepang, he hasn't enjoyed the best of records at the track. His best result here was fourth two years ago, though he did score a podium finish in the 1998 Malaysian 500 GP, hosted by the Johor circuit, next door to Singapore. Biaggi qualified third at Sepang last year but crashed out during the hectic early stages of the race, after colliding with Kenny Roberts (Suzuki).<BR><BR><BR>CHECA AIMS TO CONTINUE IMPRESSIVE MALAYSIAN RECORD<BR>Carlos Checa aims to be back up front this weekend after a difficult race at Motegi last Sunday. The Marlboro Yamaha Team man struggled to a fifth-place finish at the Japanese venue and knows he's capable of much better if all goes well at Sepang. Checa has already proved his pace aboard the mighty M1 this year, qualifying on pole for last month's Portuguese GP and scoring an excellent second-place result in that race. Now he wants to go one better. And a win here would be the perfect 30th birthday present for the Spaniard, who hits the big three-zero next Tuesday.<BR><BR>"I was in at the start of the M1 project and I feel ready to win with this bike," says Checa, who is looking forward to having two more M1s on the grid. "The racing is more open now and with extra M1s from Sepang onward, I think it will be even more exciting. I like Sepang and I like the heat. The track layout is interesting but the most important factor is probably the heat. There are some tight turns and some very long turns, where the bike is at maximum angle for a long time, with brake on into the corner and gas on coming out. It's a great track for sliding, the surface is so hot that it's easier to slide, so you can have a lot of fun, though this isn't so good for going fast. It's important to work closely with Michelin to choose the correct tyre, though Michelin have done great work this year - I can always keep a good pace all the way to the end of the race.<BR><BR>"As well as focusing on tyres, we'll also need to work on power delivery, to help control wheelspin, and on braking, because there's several parts of the track where you're braking very hard from very high speeds."<BR><BR>Checa has enjoyed good times in Malaysia ever since he came to the premier class in 1996. He scored his first podium finish with a third-place result at the 1996 Malaysian GP at Shah Alam and took second in the 1998 event at Johor. He was again second at Sepang in 1999, his first ride for the Marlboro Yamaha Team, and followed that with third at the track two years ago. Last year technical problems consigned him to a tenth-placed finish.<BR><BR>WHAT THE TEAM SAYS<BR>Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief:<BR>"You need a lot of everything at Sepang - good power, good braking and good direction changing, especially on the gas. You can take the first part of the track as an example - a long straight that leads into a very tight turn one, then a very quick right/left flick into turn two. We tested there last December but the bike has changed a lot since then, it's got better in every way - engine, chassis, electronics, everything. Max should have a good weekend, the bike is now fully competitive at every track, so we can expect to be in competition for pole position and race victory."<BR><BR>Antonio Jimenez, Carlos Checa's crew chief:<BR>"Sepang is always tough, just because the weather conditions are so extreme. But I think it will be good for us. Carlos rode the M1 for the first time at Sepang in December 2000 and immediately got a good feeling for the bike. You need a compromise set-up for Sepang, with good braking stability for the first and last corners and settings that allow you to keep a good rolling speed through the turns. We will also adapt the set-up to help the tyres because it's a tough track for tyres - when it's hot, the tyres slide more and that reduces tyre life."<BR><BR>THE TRACK<BR>Sepang is one of the longest tracks on the World Championship calendar - only Assen and Suzuka are longer - and boasts the longest-lasting lap in Grand Prix racing, several seconds longer than the Dutch and Japanese venues.<BR><BR>The Malaysian GP venue is also one of the widest racetracks in the world, putting riders and machines to the test with an excellent variety of corners and high-speed straights. Withering heat and humidity are further challenges, not only for riders and machines, but also for technicians and everyone else working in pit lane.<BR><BR>Sepang hosted its first Grand Prix in April 1999 and was an instant hit with riders and teams. The state-of-the-art complex, built adjacent to Kuala Lumpur's brand-new international airport, took circuit and infrastructure design to a new level, combining a fast, safe track layout with ultra-impressive pit, media and corporate facilities.<BR><BR><BR>Lap record: Valentino Rossi (Honda), 2:06.618, 157.741kmh/98.016mph<BR><BR>Pole position 2001: Loris Capirossi (Honda), 2:05.637<BR>