Melandri heads Yamaha in tough Portuguese race

Race

After a promising start to the tenth round of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship, which included a provisional front row qualifying performance from Gauloises Yamaha Team rider Olivier Jacque, the Portuguese Grand Prix eventually produced a less than ideal result for the YZR-M1 despite the efforts of MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri (Fortuna Yamaha Team). The 21-year-old Italian’s opening few laps made up for his 11th place qualifying performance. He then looked set to produce a top five result, after a race-long battle with eventual sixth place finisher Troy Bayliss (Ducati), before eventually securing a strong seventh.

With determination that clearly belies his MotoGP experience Melandri produced times, during the first half of the race, which matched those of eventual race winner Valentino Rossi (Honda) and second placed finisher Max Biaggi (Honda). It’s a performance that has shown the 2002 GP250 World Champion is clearly coming to terms with the intense competition of the premier class. He was closely followed by his Fortuna Yamaha Team-mate Carlos Checa, in eighth. Meanwhile a surprise third place result was snatched from the grasp of championship contender Sete Gibernau (Honda) by the Italian pocket rocket Loris Capirossi (Ducati), who powered by the Honda on the final run across the finish line.

Fifth placed qualifier Jacque ended the weekend in an unlucky 13th after a lack of rear wheel grip throughout the 28-lap race. The Frenchman entered turn one in amongst the top five, but was unable to hold his ground from the start and slowly, but surely, fell back through the 24-bike field. His Gauloises Yamaha Team-mate Alex Barros suffered similar traction problems, after making a poor tyre choice, and finished the race 11th ahead of Shinya Nakano (d’Antin Yamaha Team).

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Marco Melandri 7th:
“I am quite happy. The bike went very well and I could keep a good pace, with my average lap time in the ‘40s, and even a few ‘39s. At the same time I am a bit disappointed because I had some problems with my right arm and I couldn’t brake properly into the esses. It was a very nice race though, and I had fun.

“I knew yesterday that I would do better in the race than I have done all weekend, because in this morning’s warm-up we solved the problem I had cornering in the last section of the track. We made some adjustments to the set-up and they worked – and I could suddenly complete the last section properly. I had a good rhythm throughout the race, and I’m optimistic that I can make even more progress for the next races. I am also happy to be the fastest Yamaha today!”

Carlos Checa 8th: “I had some problems at the beginning, braking with a full tank of gas. During the first ten laps there was too much pitching, and I think if it hadn’t been for that I could have finished in the top five. My crew did change my suspension slightly during the weekend, but unfortunately it didn’t pay off today. We have discussed the race and agree that we need to alter the geometry again. We have a clear direction of where we need to go now. We tested some different tyres yesterday but it was too risky to try them out today. We have some limitations right now, which we have to work hard to fix. We know the base of the problem, and we’re all working hard to sort it out.”

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 11th:
“Right at the beginning I felt OK, but then after three or four laps the bike became very difficult to control, other riders started to come past me and I couldn’t stay with them. I think it was a combination of the suspension set-up and the bad tyre choice that I made – it was certainly no fault of Michelin. Hopefully I will be able to do better at my home GP in Brazil in a couple of weeks time.”

Olivier Jacque 13th: “The bike I rode today felt very different to the one I rode on Friday and Saturday in practice – even this morning I could tell the difference and I am at a loss to explain why that might be. I seemed to be sliding around all over the place and at the end was just glad to get to the finish line.”

D’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 12th:
“I’m disappointed. After qualifying sixth I was hopping for something more. I had a good start, but from mid distance it was impossible for me to brake hard into the turns, the pain in my right shoulder was that unbearable. This week I’m going to visit my doctor in France and we will look into the injury again, because I think that it is more serious than we first tough.”