Marlboro M1 pair on Motegi front row

Qualifying

Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa concluded the opening qualifier for the Motegi MotoGP, held October 4-6, with a pair of provisional front row performances – a second and fourth place, respectively. Biaggi’s 1’49.162 laptime, well over a second below Valentino Rossi’s (Honda) 2001 lap record (1’50.591), was enough to place the Italian on pole position – at least up until Daijiro Kato’s (Honda) final flying lap. The 2001 GP250 champion undercut Biaggi by a mere 0.110 seconds to set the fastest ever Motegi lap at his home round.

After his gutsy Brazilian performance Checa overcame some chassis set-up difficulties to place the factory Yamaha four-stroke on the front row with a 1’49.885. The Spaniard produced his best time on the final lap to be 0.833 seconds off pole, and only 0.165 behind third fastest qualifier – recently crowned 2002 MotoGP World Champion Rossi (1’49.720).

Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3, 1’51.215) was the first of the YZR500 brigade in 11th, closely followed by John Hopkins (Red Bull Yamaha WCM, 1’51.356) and Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin, 1’51.554). Meanwhile factory Yamaha wild card entry Wataru Yoshikawa placed the third YZR-M1 contesting the Motegi round in 20th, with a 1’52.497.

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Max Biaggi 2nd, 1’49.162:
“I’m quite happy, the sun seems to help. We’ve worked well today, and I’m very focused and highly motivated. This is our first time here with the M1, so we’re still looking for the best set-up, though we already have a clear idea of which direction to take and we have more things to try tomorrow. We are also evaluating some new engine parts and we have more work to do on that. Everyone up front is riding well, and I hope the weather stays nice so I can attack Kato tomorrow.”

Carlos Checa 4th, 1’49.885: “It’s great to have both bikes fitted with the same chassis. It’s a much better way to work, I can make proper comparisons when we try different settings, so we can find the correct settings sooner. At the moment we’re focusing on chassis set-up, the bike is working pretty well but we need to do some more work on the rear, I was getting some chatter this afternoon. As for the engine, we’ll check the data to compare the two different specs.”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Olivier Jacque 11th, 1’51.215:
“This afternoon ended up being a good session. This morning we tried some different Kayaba suspension, which meant we had to sort it out first. We eventually ended up with something similar to last year’s base set-up, but with the front fork improvement. Of course once we had the base I was able to push harder, and the time was eventually similar to last year, but I think we still have room to develop this package further.

“I almost had one big crash in the final few minutes, it was quite scary! I’d just come out of the pits with a new tyre, just before the last run when I lost the back-end and nearly highsided. I recovered only to run off the track, which meant that I had to come back into the pits to put on a new rear tyre. When I went back out, though, I was somewhat cautious.”

Shinya Nakano 19th, 1’52.467: “It was a very difficult session for me. One bike seemed to have a problem with the front-end, a very strange feeling that we couldn’t place. I think there may be something wrong with the chassis, it’s the one I crashed in Rio last week, so tonight we may have to change that over. We did try swapping the front suspension, but that didn’t help much at all.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
John Hopkins 12th, 1’51.356:
“It started to come together near the end. We were going through a bunch of different tyres to help with making the best choice with the race set-up, and everything seemed to be going well. The fact that it is my first time here, learning the track again, it all seemed to go in the right direction. At the end we thought we’d just go for it. We threw in a softer tyre, sure I’m still making a few mistakes here and there, and the improvement wasn’t that big, but pushing hard meant I found a few places where I can improve my riding for tomorrow.”

Garry McCoy 18th, 1’52.125: “For some strange reason my two bikes felt completely different; one was better on the brakes and the other in the corners, which took time to get sorted. In the morning I messed myself up by focusing too much on the problems rather than just sorting myself out, but I fixed that for the qualifier. It’s only Friday, but I think we’re looking good with the base set-up and a tyre choice. My time doesn’t show it, though, because when I went out for my fast lap I came up on Kenny and Gibernau, who clearly weren’t on a flying lap, and by the time I made my way past it was too late to improve.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Norick Abe 13th, 1’51.554:
“This is one track I really don’t like, so usually it’s very difficult for me to make a good laptime. But for some strange reason I seemed to be ok this time round. And I’m sure I could have even done better, but we made a silly mistake. We had a very good tyre for the last part of the session, but I came into the pits with too little time and the chequered was already out before I could compete one whole lap on the new tyre.”

Pere Riba 22nd, 1’53.131: “The injury I have with my leg is much better, and the stop-and-go nature of this track doesn’t put anywhere near as much pressure on it as in a place like Brno, but I haven’t been able to keep up my physical fitness with all these injuries. This is my problem, and it really has been all year. I’m working towards improving this but time is running out, so I’m just focusing on staying upright and keeping smooth.”