Checa takes to the TT podium


The Assen TT, held June 29, will go down in the history books as a race of attrition with six out of the 21 starters never making it across the finishing line, and another handful returning to the fray after some wild off-track excursions. Carlos Checa was one of the battle-scared survivors to take home a valuable bag full of points; moving up to third in the championship points' race. The Marlboro Yamaha Team rider finished a creditable third aboard the YZR-M1 after a last lap, last corner collision with eventual fifth place finisher Tohru Ukawa (Honda).

With only the final chicane remaining Ukawa made an attempt to slip up the inside of the Spaniard, a move that saw the two riders collide, bouncing Checa off the track and into the dirt. Checa managed to stay upright in the slippery conditions, rejoining the race, while Ukawa crashed only meters from the chequered flag. The latter remounted his damaged machine to limp across the line some 29 seconds behind fourth placed man Max Biaggi on the second Marlboro Yamaha Team four-stroke.

Valentino Rossi (Honda) put in yet another dominating performance to take his sixth win of the season, but only after challenging the aggression of long-time race leader Alex Barros (Honda). The Brazilian rider came through from the back of a eight man pack to take the lead on lap three, and never relinquished his hold until lap 16 – finishing 2.233 seconds behind the Italian.

John Hopkins (Red Bull Yamaha WCM) put in his best performance of the year when he took on the challenges of Jeremy McWilliams (KR), and then Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3), to score a seventh place finish. Nakano came through to claim eighth – only two tenths behind the American rookie after a last lap do-or-die effort to jump up one place in the results.

Marlboro Yamaha Team
Carlos Checa 3rd:
“I want to check my bike to see if there’s a magnet somewhere. I touched a lot of riders today – Rossi on the first lap, then Max, then Ukawa at the last corner. My leathers are covered in black tyre marks from the other riders; they’ll need repairing! The touch with Max was a bit scary – fifth gear and not easy to stay on the track! With Ukawa, I saw him coming as I flicked into the chicane, so I lifted up to cut the corner, if I hadn’t, we would’ve both crashed. But I’m very satisfied with this result. We changed some chassis settings for the race, which we hadn’t been able to test on a dry track, so it took me a while to get used to how the bike was reacting. I was having trouble through some of the high-speed sections, and only after half the race did I feel really comfortable. Also, we chose a rear Michelin with which I’d only done five laps in practice, but it worked great, it helped me go faster towards the end.”

Max Biaggi 4th: “I was hoping for much more from this race. The problem is that this track is very unusual, it’s all about high-speed direction changes, and this is the area of performance that we’ve been working to improve. The bike isn’t as manoeuvrable as I’d like it to be, and over race distance it’s hard to ride precisely. Just after half distance, when I was right with Carlos and Ukawa, I made a mistake at turn one, got a wheel on the grass, and that’s when I lost touch with them. I like the next two tracks, Donington and Sachsenring, but we need to keep working to improve handling.”

Marlboro Yamaha Team director Davide Brivio: “Even if it was dry for the race, weather conditions played a part in this event. Carlos made some little changes to his set-up, which took him a few laps to get accustomed to. They both, once again, rode very good races. Carlos had a great run, and his last-corner collision with Ukawa was just a racing incident. Max suffered, but he rode as hard as ever, and without that problem he would’ve been right up there. Carlos is now third in the championship, which is a great reward for the whole team, now we need to keep working and look for better results at Donington and the Sachsenring.”

Red Bull Yamaha WCM
John Hopkins 7th:
“I finally got the start that I’ve been looking for. I entered the first few corners well, and even made up a few places early on in the race. I had Gibernau and McWilliams in my sights, once I got past Harada, and found myself in a good battle with them for most of the race before Gibernau crashed in the chicane and McWilliams retired. It was a little lonely after that, and then in the last few laps I noticed I only had something like 0.3 seconds on the guy behind me. Clearly someone was closing in, and I was expecting the pass, when Shinya shot up through the inside entering the chicane for the final time. He overcooked it, though, and I was able to get by and reclaim seventh.”

Alex Hofmann 11th: “That was a lot of fun! It could have been better as I really made a big mistake with the start, but it eventually worked out to be a good result. My times were much the same as what John was doing, but I was as far back as 19th on the first lap, which meant it took some time to get through the traffic before I could really get going. Once I got my rhythm I started making good progress, and had a great dice with Jurgen. I set myself up to make a pass on him entering the chicane on the final lap, but there were yellow flags waving everywhere so I couldn’t get through. Still it was a good result, and great fun.”

Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3
Shinya Nakano 8th:
“My start was ok, but I didn’t get it right into the first few corners and a lot of guys were able to get by. As a result it was a little difficult for the first few laps, but once I’d worked my way by I felt quite confident. I got into some great racing with a few other two-strokes, and on the last lap I attempted a pass on Hopkins, but I couldn’t make it stick. Eighth isn’t perfect, but it’s the best result I’ve had in a while.”

Olivier Jacque 14th: “Right from the start I had problems; with the ‘interruptions’ to qualifying I never really got the set-up right and I paid for it in the race. The first few laps were ok, when the tyres were new, but it didn’t take long for the bike to turn into a wild bull – bucking around everywhere.”

Antena 3 Yamaha d’Antin
Norick Abe 9th:
“I can’t undo the bad luck that I had in qualifying so I had no choice but to take a gamble in the race with a chassis set-up that I hadn’t tested yet. The bike felt quite different at first, but after a while I started to feel more at home. In the end it wasn’t such a bad weekend, to go from 19th to ninth.”

Pere Riba DNF: “I don’t know what it was, but the back of the bike was chattering so bad that I just couldn’t ride without risking a crash. The team is taking a look at it now to see if they can find out what the problem was.”