Checa chalks up a podium on home turf


Carlos Checa put in a crowd-pleasing performance on the Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 to take his second podium result aboard the all-new four-stroke machine. And the location for his determined third place couldn't have been more appropriate with his hometown arena, the Catalunya circuit, hosting the sixth round of the MotoGP championship on June 16. After a strong start the Spaniard slid past early race leader Torhu Ukawa (Honda) on lap one and remained in control until the defending MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi (Honda), powered by. The Italian made his move at the end of the main straight, just after half race distance, and went on to win the race by a mere 0.880 seconds. On lap 17 Ukawa also slipped by the No. 7 YZR-M1 in similar fashion to follow his teammate across the line for a one two finish.

Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) completed the four-stroke foursome, which demolished the rest of the MotoGP field, to end the day three seconds adrift of his teammate and 12 seconds ahead of the first two-stroke challenger, Alex Barros (Honda).

Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) survived a four-bike pile-up on the opening lap to claim ninth, just ahead of Red Bull Yamaha WCM teenage sensation John Hopkins. The Frenchman, who felt he might have gone into the turn “a little too hot”, had no idea of the scale of the incident until he saw the replay after the race. Abe was the first of three to crash out, with Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3) and Jurgen vd Goorbergh (Honda) completing the unlucky list. Abe recovered, however, and returned to the pits for repairs, rejoining the race two laps down to finish 16th behind his Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin teammate Pere Riba.

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 3rd:
“That was hard work, the bike was working well and I was able to run a good pace. I never had a good feeling here with the 500, but this bike is different and we’re making good progress, so thanks to all the team, my engineers and my mechanics. It’s not been easy though, because I crashed yesterday afternoon and the bike wasn’t so good this morning, so we had to change some settings. In the race I was able to lead for a long time, and when Ukawa came by I could pass him again. But when Rossi went ahead I couldn’t keep the pace, it was too risky. I didn’t have enough traction, especially on the throttle, so we must focus on that to improve.”

Max Biaggi 4th: “You have big hopes when you get pole position. I managed to make a good start but I quickly realised that it was going to be a tough race. I was racing my second bike because we had a problem with my number-one machine in morning warm-up. In the race the bike didn’t feel so good in chassis or engine performance, so we effectively lost all the hard work we’d done in practice and qualifying. I did the best I could in the circumstances, and congratulations to Carlos, he rode a great race.”

YZR-M1 Project Leader, Ichiro Yoda: “Overall, not such a bad weekend. Max got pole position yesterday and our bikes seemed good in the race until half distance. At Mugello Carlos was passed easily on the straight but the speed difference didn’t seem so big here, though we still need to work on acceleration. Our lap times weren’t so good after half distance, however, so I think we need to work on machine set-up to improve tyre endurance.”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Olivier Jacque 9th:
“On the first lap I think I may have come into turn four a little too hot and affected Norick Abe’s line. It was a racing incident but obviously I’m very sorry for those riders it may have caused problems for, especially my teammate. After that Katoh caught me and I tried to stay with him, but eventually I had to let him go.”

Shinya Nakano DNF: “Somebody hit Abe on the first lap and he bounced into me, forcing me into Jurgen. I was in a sandwich and had nowhere to go. I hurt my left foot in the crash, but we can’t see anything on the x-ray to indicate if it is broken or not. Doctor Costa thinks there may be a small crack in the bone but we’ll have to wait and see. I am clearly disappointed, but that’s racing.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
John Hopkins 9th:
“It’s my best finish yet! I met my pre-race expectation, which is great. I was lucky, though, as I was nearly caught up in that three-bike crash on the first lap. But once I got past that I put my head down and went for consistency. I ended up in a battle with Ryo and Katoh for a while, and then Laconi. It was great to ride with those four-strokes, they’re so fast on the straights that the only way I could get past was to dive bomb them into the turns.”

Alex Hofmann DNF: “That was a tough introduction into the MotoGP championship! It’s a serious class, they’re hard-edged bikes and the competition is unbelievable. I felt good at the start, and I managed to dice with Harada and Riba, but I was making small mistakes. I’m sure a little more time to learn how to set-up the bike would help a lot. With that in mind I’m lucky that I’ll be riding in Assen; I like the track and I don’t think it’ll be as hard to ride fast on as Catalunya was.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Pere Riba 15th:
“I need to learn to push myself harder during practice to get a better set-up and a faster race pace. Today I was able to start with the group, but I just can’t seem to stay with them over the race distance.”

Norick Abe 16th: “After that first lap crash I managed to get going again and rode back to the pits so the team could fix the bike. I wanted to get some points; you just don’t know what can happen in the race to help you. Since I knew I couldn’t catch anybody it was difficult to stay focused and to push hard, all I could think about was the chequered flag.”