M1 contributes to surprise four-stroke podium


If the 2002 MotoGP World Championship wasn’t unpredictable enough, with three tyre manufactures and a wide range of engine configurations, both four-strokes and two-strokes alike, Suzuka added yet another variable – rain. After so much speculation about who would hold all the Aces come race day (April 7) 21-lap event saw three four-stroke machines, from three different manufacturers stand atop the podium – Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha.

For Yamaha it was the brilliance of Carlos Checa (Marlboro Yamaha Team) that put the YZR-M1 on the front row in qualifying, and this continued the moment the lights set the championship in motion. The Spaniard nailed the start and led the group up to turn one, but it was the aggressiveness of the local wildcard riders Shinichi Itoh (Honda) and Akira Ryo (Suzuki) that dictated the initial pace. Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) was there in third aboard the first two-stroke machine, just ahead of Checa and polesitter Valentino Rossi (Honda). But the Frenchman’s charge was only to last three laps before he was penalized for a jump start – returning to the pits for the ten second penalty before opting to retire. It was a bad day for the Tech 3 team when Shinya Nakano also ended his home MotoGP early.

Soon after, it was a four-way battle between Ryo, Itoh, Rossi and Checa, which Sete Gibernau (Suzuki) wanted a part of, but soon after passing Checa the Suzuki mounted Spaniard ended his run in the gravel. It left the initial foursome to decide the race with Rossi making his move for the lead with 6 laps to run, and Checa taking the final podium place off Itoh one lap later.

Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin) was the first two-stroke home in fifth after a poor start. The local hero had spent the race in a two-way scrap with Tohru Ukawa – on the third Honda four-stroke – while young American John Hopkins (Red Bull Yamaha WCM) scored his first championship points after finishing 12th, even after crashing mid-way through the race. His injured teammate Garry McCoy put in a gutsy ride to be in the top ten before lowsiding himself out of contention on the third lap.

The outcome was similar for Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) when he crashed the second YZR-M1 after touching the white line under brakes. The Italian was running 11th at the time. In total the treacherous conditions saw nine riders fail to finish the race.

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 3rd:
“The main thing was to keep the leaders in sight. After Rossi and Ryo passed me I pushed hard to stay close to them, and then started working on Itoh. I passed him when he lost the front through the esses, his bike went sideways and his rear wheel hit my fairing, so I lost the front too. I looked and him and he looked at me, like we were both going to crash, after that I pushed hard again and I’m so happy to get third in my first race with the M1. In fact, wet-weather results aren’t so ‘real’, so in some ways the most important thing this weekend was yesterday’s qualifying session because that showed we’re already at a high level with this machine. The bike is ready to fight and to win, that’s the main thing, so I’m confident for the next race.”

Max Biaggi DNF: “I touched the white line with my front tyre, it was a silly mistake, but it’s very easy to fall in these conditions. I really wanted to get some points today. I got a bad start because I had a lot of wheelspin away from the grid. After that I was riding my own race and feeling fairly comfortable. The bike was pretty good, I was just losing a little time through the esses. We were unlucky to have rain because we’d done some good work on bike set-up during practice. Now we look to South Africa, where I hope we can get a good result.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Norick Abe 5th:
“I’m a little disappointed not to have done better at my home MotoGP. I honestly felt that we’d have a pretty good chance in the wet on the two-strokes but those fours are just so fast on the straight. I know that fifth is a good result, but its so tough when you can make a pass under brakes and then the four-strokes just power on by down the straights. The bike was working well, and felt good especially around the back of the track, but the four-stroke can put the power down so well in the wet because of their smoother delivery.”

Pere Riba DNS: “After how things went during yesterday’s free practice I knew I couldn’t race today. My shoulder is definitely broken and I’m not sure how long it could set me back for. I’m going to Europe to see a specialist and then make a decision from there. There is no point taking any risks when I can’t be 100 percent.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
John Hopkins 12th:
“I’m quite happy with that, considering. It’s great to score my first championship points at my very first MotoGP race. I was going well, and I was in a good scrap with Nakano before I over-cooked it into the chicane. I kept going and was catching a group in front of me – I think it was Laconi, Capirossi and Katoh – when I let my inexperience get the better of me and crashed in the chicane.

“I returned to the pits and saw there were a lot of riders who were crashing, in fact there were only 16 left when I came in, so I thought if I could just get back out there I could possible get some points. And I did!”

Garry McCoy DNF: “I was going easy and I just lost the front, clearly you don’t have to be going hard to make a mistake and fall. It was tough in those conditions, and my leg didn’t make it any easier. I just need more time… to heal and to do more laps on the bike.”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Shinya Nakano DNF:
“Sorry, so sorry. I made a silly mistake. I was off to an alright start but then I couldn’t see anything. Once I was settled in I managed a good fight with Barros and Aoki; soon after that I put in the fastest lap of the race and then I over did it and crashed. It was tough but it was my mistake. At least I’m ok.”

Olivier Jacque DNF: “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the board; I didn’t feel that I had jumped the start but I knew I had to come in for the penalty. After that it was so hard to stay motivated so I decided to come in and park the bike. Up until then the bike felt very good. Even though I couldn’t stay with the four-strokes on the straight I knew I could outride them around the back of the track. But it was not to be.”