Gritty ride by injured Barros

Race

The first race of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship kicked of in spectacular and yet incident ridden style at Suzuka, Japan on April 6. New Gauloises Yamaha Team signing Alex Barros put in a gritty performance to finish eighth in a race full of action, attrition and off-track excursions, which began as early as the day’s morning warm-up. Within minutes of starting the warm-up the Brazilian suffered a high-speed crash into the turn-17 tyre wall, resulting in ligament damage to his left knee. Virtually unable to walk, still the determined Brazilian opted to contest the opening round, although only after receiving medical clearance from the Clinica Mobile.

Starting eighth on the grid, after very unpredictable and damp qualifying, Barros was closed out from a clear run into the first turn, which saw him as far back as 16th of the opening lap. Within a few laps the Gauloises Yamaha Team rider had made his intentions clear and began to move through the field to a solid top ten performance by race end.

Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team) started from the front row in lightening style – entering the first turn leading the 24-strong MotoGP pack, before slowly filtering back through the field to finish tenth, behind ninth placed Shinya Nakano (d’Antin Yamaha Team). Meanwhile Yamaha Factory Test rider Norick Abe, who replaced the injured Marco Melandri in the Fortuna Yamaha Team for the Japanese MotoGP, eventually finished 11th on his prototype YZR-M1 - opting to ride a bike he was familiar with rather than the 2003 spec M1.

The first race jitters began to show, however, with no less than eight riders running off the circuit or crashing out of contention during the 21-lap race – including Daijiro Kato (Honda). The likeable Japanese, who was well in contention for a top ten result for his home MotoGP, was involved in a serious crash on lap two which, on first reports, has left him in a critical condition.

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 8th:
“Oh man I was in so much pain on the bike. I had to adjust my riding style due to my knee and in the first few laps I tried to understand how it was affecting the bike. I could not take the left turns too well; I just tried to ride as smooth as possible. The front had good grip, but already after a few laps the rear tyre started to loose traction and I had a problem driving off the turns. Maybe because of the wet qualifying conditions we didn’t have the perfect rear tyre, I am not sure. All I could do was to overtake on the brakes.

“This evening I will go to hospital to have further checkup on my knee to understand how we should treat the ligament damage, and get a more exact estimation on the recovery period.”

Olivier Jacque 15th: “It was a strange race, concluding a bad weekend. We never got the machine set-up properly, due to the lack of dry practice time. Although my tyres were working OK I could not turn the bike and the front was pushing all the time. I saw Kato on the floor and that affected me. Also I spotted that his machine leaked fluid on the track so I took it a little easy for a while. After a few laps I got myself together and started to push and recovered some positions. Really the only positive thing from this race is that I gained more track time, which gave me some clues on how to improve the setting of my bike.”

d’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 9th:
“My start was good, but it was difficult to hold my positions in the first few laps because I could not feel the rear tyre. I wasn’t sure what the grip level was. The track conditions today were somehow different, windy and with less grip than normal. After following some riders I got more confident and started to push more, and mid race I recovered some positions. The bike handled OK, but we need to work on further performance improvement and find a better balance between chassis and engine. For now ninth, as second Yamaha, is just OK, but I can’t really say I am too happy.”

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 10th:
“I didn’t have a good feeling today with the bike. I got away well but I just didn’t feel comfortable and couldn’t push. I know that I am capable of doing better lap times than that here and I am very disappointed with this result."

Norick Abe 11th: “Today I made a good start and got up to about eighth at the end of the first lap. At that point I thought I could have a good race but then I developed some problems with rear tyre grip and was sliding more with each lap and my lap times got worse. We had changed the set-up this morning but it didn’t really work as well as I hoped.”