Checa just misses out on a hometown podium
RaceCarlos Checa gave the Fortuna Yamaha Team its best result of the 2003 season in one of the most thrilling MotoGP races since the introduction of the four-stroke championship. After a 25-lap race of paint-swapping action the local hero completed the Catalan Grand Prix in fourth - 0.068 seconds ahead of fellow Yamaha rider Shinya Nakano (d'Antin Yamaha Team). After a solid start, which placed Checa eighth on the opening lap, the Spaniard began a charge that saw him challenging the lead group within half a dozen laps - before finishing only 0.5 seconds off the podium.
Nakano wasn't the only Yamaha rider Checa had to contend with at his home Grand Prix with Gauloises Yamaha Team-mates Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque also featuring well in the top five during the early stages. The Brazilian eventually finished eighth, after suffering from a lack of rear traction, while front row starter Jacque ended his most promising weekend performance in the gravel trap, on lap 13, after a similar problem.
The intensity of the race began from the outset with an opening lap incident claiming Jeremy McWilliams (Proton KR) and Kawasaki riders Akira Yanagawa (wildcard) and Andrew Pitt. It then continued throughout the race with further off-track excursions, yet at half race distance the top five podium candidates were still only separated by a mere 2.5 seconds. At the chequered it was less than five seconds covering the same number, before a very unexpected conclusion.
After a determined ride Italian Loris Capirossi gave the V-four Ducati its first race victory in the premier class when defending MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda) faltered under the intense pressure of the leading pack. On lap 16 Rossi out-braked himself into turn four, running off the circuit as a result and out of contention for the race win. The Italian rejoined in sixth, however, before riding like a man possessed - carving through the field to finish the sixth round of the year second, ahead of Sete Gibernau (Honda) and a rather happy Checa.
Fortuna Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 4th: "I finally got a good result and everything went well; the practice, the start, and the race. We've made so much progress since Mugello. As I said before, Sunday is the only thing that matters and today we did it, I was able to stay up front and find the consistency I needed to get a good result. I was close enough to fight for the podium but I couldn't go fast in some areas. I managed to pass Nakano on the straight, though, and keep fourth position. It's the first time this year I could get a really good feeling in the race and stay there. I saw Rossi coming past but it was impossible to do anything to catch him, as his pace was faster and more stable in some parts of the track.
"We have made a lot of progress and actually changed less on the bike this weekend than before. Now that I have the confidence to stay in front I will keep the geometry I used today. This is more like my normal results, but when we have more stability with the rear in the mid-turn we can improve on this result."
Marco Melandri 13th: "I made a good start and the first few laps were not so bad but the rear tyre kept sliding out and it felt really nervous. On the long corners I didn't have enough traction and was spinning the rear a lot. I couldn't use full power because of the wheelspin. After seven or eight laps I seemed to have a clutch problem on top of this, and it was too difficult to do anything more. I think my set-up from this morning was better so we'll have to look at whether to use something more like that for the future."
D'Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 5th: "I rode a very good race today. I could stay with the front guys and I was much nearer to them than in Mugello. At the end I passed Checa, but he overtook me again and I didn't have the opportunity to fight back. Even so the bike worked very well and it's clear we are heading in the right direction now with the chassis balance."
Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 8th: "I'm disappointed as I am sure I could have had a good result here. We went well in practice and carried out excellent tests at this circuit during the winter, but unfortunately the choice of tyres made matters very confusing and we ended up picking one that was too hard for the conditions. I wasn't racing out there today, I was surviving."
Olivier Jacque DNF: "Starting on the front row gives you a big advantage, even if I knew it was going to be difficult over full race distance. I started well and was fourth into the first corner behind Capirossi, Rossi and Gibernau. For about four laps I was able to maintain the pace but had very little grip and was eventually forced to let riders by, which wasn't great for morale. Then on the 13th lap I lost the front-end braking at the end of the straight and as result failed to score any points for the first time since the start of the season. We are going to stay here tomorrow to test and hopefully sort out the tyre problem that has handicapped us over the last couple of GPs."