Checa closing in on championship leaders


In one of the closest races and the most unpredictable this season so far – with the top five covered by only 1.171 seconds at mid race distance and the race win claimed by a mere 0.042 seconds – Fortuna Yamaha Team rider Carlos Checa produced a brilliantly consistent 22-lap performance to finish fourth at today’s Czech Grand Prix. The 30-year-old was elated with the result following a difficult start to the weekend, which placed the Spaniard on the second row of the grid for today’s main event. With tactics thrown out the window from the outset, except for the desire to win, the leading pack put on a show that saw positions changing not only every lap, but virtually every corner. This was a race run on the edge of out-of-control, and to survive was equal to a race win.

Checa’s start placed the factory YZR-M1 sixth into turn one, before the top seven set a pace that saw a gap build over the remaining MotoGP field. Then, as the intensity grew, ‘El Toro’ literally took the bull by the horns and, lap by lap, closed in on a podium result – powering past Max Biaggi (Honda) on lap 12, before taking advantage of Loris Capirossi’s floundering Ducati. The latter retiring with two laps remaining, leaving Checa to claim fourth on the day, and sixth place in the championship standings.

Although Valentino Rossi (Honda) took his fourth win of the year it has become increasingly clear the Italian will have to work hard to defend his MotoGP World Championship title this season after a determined effort by Sete Gibernau (Honda) – who has also claimed four wins this season – and third placed Troy Bayliss (Ducati).

Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team) completed the tenth round of the 2003 season with an admirable seventh place after tough qualifying sessions, during which he crashed on his final hot lap, and was left with a less than ideal start position. The Brazilian currently lies eighth in the championship, behind Tohru Ukawa (Honda) and Checa.

In what is becoming Marco Melandri’s forte, the Fortuna Yamaha Team rider made yet another lightening start to pounce from 17th on the grid to ninth by turn one. After a difficult qualifying performance it was just what the Italian needed. The 20-year-old MotoGP rookie then found himself in a scrap with Makoto Tamada (Honda) and Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team) until half race distance before securing a respectable tenth place.

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 4th:
“Today had a taste of victory. It was a successful day – my practice went quite well this morning, during the race I got some great lap times, and it was one of the best races ever. I was able to follow the others, but at a distance, and to overtake Biaggi. I made a small mistake at one point, when I went in too hard on the brakes, and lost a bit of time. I tried to catch the others but it was impossible. As I said, it’s a bit like a victory for us, as it’s the first race where I have been able to follow the leading group. Hopefully this is just the start of a confidence in set-up that will last for the rest of the season.”

Marco Melandri 10th:“I just haven’t had a good feeling all weekend so this morning we lowered the geometry of the bike and it felt better. I trusted Fiorenzo (Fanali, Marco’s crew chief) and our Michelin man (Daniel Croispine) on tyre choice and settings for the race. I started well but just couldn’t really keep the pace in the early stages. Once the fuel load had gone down a bit I started going better and managed to get past Jacque, but Tamada was already too far ahead. Today our objective was to finish the race and get a better feeling from the bike after the terrible qualifying, so I think this was a pretty good result. I’m now looking forward to an extra day here for testing.”

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 7th:
“I made an OK start but seemed to spend a lot of the race behind Ukawa, watching Hayden pull away! Then three laps from the end I finally got past him for good and, if I had one more lap, I’m sure I could have overtaken Hayden. A couple more again and I would have taken Max. Still it was my fault; I should have woken up earlier in the race. In spite of that I feel pretty happy with how everything has gone. It was good to finally make it all the way to the finish line and feel comfortable on the bike. For that I have to thank my team and Michelin for the excellent work they did this weekend. Now I have another ‘mini-break’ during which I will be able to work on my fitness. Hopefully I’ll go to Portugal in top form and rearing to go.”

Olivier Jacque 11th: “I didn’t really enjoy myself much out there today. Straight away I could see that I lacked acceleration compared with the other Yamaha riders. That, combined with the fact that we never managed to solve our front-end chatter problem, meant that the race was pretty hard work.”

D’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 14th:
“It was a difficult race for me, but I’m very happy to finish and take two points,” said Nakano. “I didn’t see my crash, yet, but I want to. During the race it was difficult to open the throttle in the turn where I crashed. It’s a pity because I was very confident for this race and I expected to get a good result. Now I’m going home to Barcelona for two weeks. I will have a rest to ensure I will be 100% at Estoril.”