Checa’s fifth in Welkom


Carlos Checa put in a determined ride at the South African MotoGP World Championship round, held at Welkom on April 21, to finish the 28-lap race in fifth place. Up until the closing stages the Spaniard had held onto a solid fourth place when 2001 MotoGP 250 World Champion Daijiro Katoh (Honda) made a late charge to dive through on the penultimate lap. It was a result that could have slipped through the Marlboro Yamaha Team rider’s fingers when he stalled the YZR-M1 on the warm-up lap and was forced to push start the four-stoke machine on his own. He eventually made the grid before the green to start from his allotted seventh place.

The race looked set to produce a second consecutive Valentino Rossi (Honda) victory after both he and his teammate, Tohru Ukawa, broke away from the rest of the field. Only Loris Capirossi (Honda) – who finished the day third – was able to keep the two four-strokes in sight. Then at two-thirds race distance Ukawa made his first attempt on the race lead, which he took successfully and held until Rossi fought back on lap 26. An unexpected mistake by the defending MotoGP world champ, when he out-braked himself, opened the door for Ukawa. The Japanese took advantage of the mistake only to be attacked by the Italian on two more occasions, but Rossi wasn’t able to make the moves stick and Ukawa was left to take his first MotoGP race win.

Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) attempted to follow Katoh’s move on the final lap, but couldn’t find a way by Checa’sYZR-M1 and was forced to be contented with sixth place. Even so the Frenchman was more than happy with the result. Hot on Jacque’s tail was the No. 6 machine of Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin) with eighth placed Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3), in turn, all over his back wheel.

Meanwhile clutch problems saw Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) off to a poor start, but the Italian put in a hard run to recover a number of places and eventually finished the day ninth – two seconds ahead of a determined Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM).

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 5th:
“I rode my maximum today. But although I’m happy with the job we’ve done I’m not so happy with the result. In fact I won’t be happy until we’re fighting for the win. We are all working very hard and I know the bike will get better.

“I was already quite tired by the start of the race because I’d stalled the bike at the start of the warm-up lap and had to push-start it. After the start I was able to pass a few guys and work my way into fourth, which was the maximum result I could expect here. The bike’s performance was very stable through the race, though I was losing some time up the back because the tyres were moving around a bit. Eventually it meant I lost fourth place.”

Max Biaggi 9th: I had some problem with the clutch and the engine braking system this morning, though we’ve never had this problem before. Without this I would have had a better start and a better race, as the problem was also affecting me as I rode into the corners. Because of that I found it difficult to gain any positions.”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Olivier Jacque 6th:
“Those last six laps were awesome! It was that close I nearly ran up the rear of Checa on more than one occasion. The start, though, was difficult with every one all over each other, but I really enjoyed it.

“The only tough part was the first few laps, with a full fuel tank. It kept pushing the front into the turns, which made it hard to hold the right line. Once I got through that I found my rhythm and came on the back of Katoh, but I didn’t have enough left to follow him when he made the pass on Checa. Still I’m happy because we achieved our target.”

Shinya Nakano 8th: “Not a good race for me; I’m quite disappointed because I felt that we could have done better than eighth. At the start I didn’t push hard enough and then I just couldn’t find the rhythm. On the last lap I did try to get past Abe, but I lost the front-end and he came back in underneath me.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Norick Abe 7th:
“Today the race was of a really high standard. I was putting in some pretty good lap times yet I still couldn’t improve on seventh place. I’m now just looking forward to getting into the European part of the championship where I’m sure things will improve.”

Pere Riba 13th: “I’m happy with that result, mainly because before the race I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to get through the whole race with my shoulder. But step-by-step I was able to build up my confidence. I had a good ride with Hopkins and then Harada for a while. It was a great opportunity to learn.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
Garry McCoy 10th:
“I made a great start and I felt quite comfortable holding fifth place. I knew that there was no real chance that I could run with the lead group so I just tried to keep my head down and be consistent. But around the 15th lap or so I started having some big front-end slides, which made it harder work for me. I think it was this that brought on the pain from my leg and I just started thinking about finishing safely and getting some good points.”

John Hopkins 14th: “I started off a bit on the slow side, a little too cautious I guess. I was feeling quite comfortable soon after and then on around lap four I thought I could smell oil. My first thought was that one of the four-strokes might have dumped some on the track. Then as I was tipping into the fast right up the back I though I saw a shiny patch on the racing line. I picked the bike up to avoid it but it put me on the dirty part of the track and I ran off the circuit and up the banking. I even clipped the wall. I don’t know how I didn’t crash, I’m just glad I was able to get back into it and come out with a few more points.”