Rio race proves tough on Yamaha


The Rio Grand Prix, held today, September 20, has proven to be one of the most difficult rounds of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship for Yamaha, with the YZR-M1 contingent struggling to finish with a solid top ten result. Despite all efforts made little could be done to overcome the difficulties encountered on the slick and bumpy Nelson Piquet circuit during qualifying, leaving Shinya Nakano (d’Antin Yamaha Team) and Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team) to finish eighth and ninth respectively.

After qualifying sixth on the grid for today’s 24-lap race Nakano was looking forward to a good result in Rio, on a circuit he likes very much. But a poor start and a lack of rear traction saw the Japanese rider remain ninth until an opportunity presented itself on the penultimate lap. The likeable Japanese pounced on the chance, provided by Ducati rider Troy Bayliss, to claim eighth place ahead of Checa – only 0.283 seconds adrift at the finish line. The Spaniard was another rider to take advantage the situation, with the Australia finishing the Brazilian Grand Prix in tenth place.

Checa was hopeful of a good start but, in the end, was unable to make any inroad on the opening few laps of today’s main event. This left Valentino Rossi (Honda), Sete Gibernau (Honda) and Makoto Tamada (Honda) to claim the final podium placings unchallenged by any Yamaha – the trio finishing in that order.

For Checa’s Fortuna Yamaha Team-mate, Marco Melandri, race day did offer some progress when the 21-year-old Italian produced a reasonable start to eventually finish the Brazilian Grand Prix 11th – a five place improvement over his final qualifying result.

D’Antin Yamaha Team
Shinya Nakano 8th:
“Not such a great day, even if I am the fastest Yamaha. The race started off OK as I was able to match the pace of the lead group. But as the race wore on I started to have some rear traction problems and started to lose ground. I still kept trying my best, however, and that’s why I was able to eventually take Bayliss. Physically I’m virtually perfect now, which is exactly what I was hoping for with Motegi just around the corner.”

Fortuna Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 9th:
“Obviously we didn’t do as well as we had hoped this weekend, but we did make gradual improvements during the three days. My main problem this weekend was balance and the set-up of the chassis. I stuck behind the Ducati of Bayliss and at the end I increased my pace and was able to pass him, but I still need to be able to do more regarding turning the bike, and that’s one of my main problems. I really want to improve this handling issue as soon as I can. I’m going back to Europe now for a bit of relaxation before I head to Japan for the next round.”

Marco Melandri 11th: “I started the race quite badly and after a few laps I lost grip on the rear. It’s strange because normally that happens when I on the power, but this time it happened in the middle of the corners. The feeling of the bike was much better than yesterday in general. After seven or eight laps I lost grip on the front, and then on the last five or six laps I was taking too many risks and I lost my confidence. By the end I had lost a lot of time and my lap times were slow.”

Gauloises Yamaha Team
Alex Barros 12th:
“I’m really disappointed as this circuit wasn’t too hard on my shoulder and I had hoped to ride well in front of my home fans. Even though I qualified badly I thought I’d to be able to fight for fifth or sixth place, but right from the start I struggled for grip and couldn’t post fast enough lap times to stay in the hunt. Throughout the weekend, as the track evolved, we have struggled with tyre choice, and I think today’s increased temperature only made things worse.”

Olivier Jacque DNF: “The ankle I twisted yesterday in qualifying caused me a lot of problems this morning, during the warm-up, and I couldn’t decide whether to race or not. In the end I went to see Dr Costa, who put a support around my foot and gave me some anti-inflammatory medication. However once the race was underway I quickly realised it was too dangerous to continue as I couldn’t change down properly and kept running wide in the corners.”