Yamaha Grand Prix Test - Phillip Island
27/28/29/30 Nov, 2001
The Marlboro Yamaha Team
entered into MotoGP's new four-stroke era at Phillip Island this week,
conducting four days of promising development work on the all-new Yamaha
Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa rode alongside Yamaha tester John Kocinski during the tests, the trio completing almost 600 laps on five different YZR-M1s. The three riders met every target assigned for the four-day session, including lap times and durability, and will continue testing at Sepang, Malaysia, next week.
This week's tests are of particular significance, for this was the team's first outing with the YZR-M1 since the last-ever 500 World Championship concluded earlier this month. Both Biaggi and Checa are now totally focused on the YZR-M1.
The Phillip Island outing also gave the riders their first chance to acquaint themselves with several new staff, including YZR-M1 project leader Ichiro Yoda and new team technical director Ken Suzuki. Yoda was delighted with progress during his first track days with the crew.
"The team last tested the four-stroke at Brno in August when Carlos did a very impressive race simulation time," said Yoda, who used to be responsible for 500 GP engine development and was project leader of the YZR250 during its successful World Championship campaign in 2000. "We established our target for this session from that performance and I'm glad to say that we have achieved that goal. Like Brno, we're not aiming at one-off fast laps but at consistent race-distance performances from the bike, the riders and the tyres. I'm very happy with this week's work and I'm enjoying working with the team. Both Max and Carlos are giving excellent feedback and I'm looking forward to continuing our work at Sepang next week, where we will have the same kind of target, taken from the race pace at this year's Malaysian 500 GP."
For obvious reasons of secrecy during this crucial interim period between the last 500 championship and the first four-stroke-based MotoGP series, the Marlboro Yamaha Team has decided not to reveal lap times from Phillip Island and Sepang, but both Biaggi and Checa are quietly confident after their Island outing.
"Last time I rode the M1 during August my main priority was still to get the best out of the 500," said Biaggi, who finished second overall in the final 500 World Championship. "So this was the first time I could dedicate all my efforts to the four-stroke. I'm enjoying the process of adapting my riding style to suit the bike, especially getting used to the four-stroke's extra engine braking, and once I've fully achieved that process I think I'm going to enjoy riding the M1 more than I enjoyed the 500. The four-stroke's power delivery is much smoother than the 500's, and though the chassis is similar to the 500's, it's not identical."
Biaggi's only real problem during the tests was with the local wildlife - on the second day he collided with a seagull, breaking a windscreen, and later he had to take avoiding action when a hare ran on to the track.
"These tests have been very useful," added the Italian. "I'm very happy with the new staff that have joined the team to work on this new project, I think that we now have the best group I've ever worked with. The factory is working very hard and they have an excellent reaction time - next week we will have some more new parts to test at Sepang. That session will be very interesting because Sepang is a very different track from Phillip Island. There's a lot more heavy braking there, so we'll be working on getting that right. Sepang is also very tough on tyres, largely due to the hot conditions, so we'll be able to do a lot of work on tyre endurance. Tyres will be particularly important from now on because there's more than one tyre manufacturer involved in our championship."
Checa, who has made no secret of his enthusiasm for the four-stroke project, was very happy with his pace at the Island. "This was an important test for us because it was the first time we've been able to fully concentrate on the four-stroke without having to go back to racing the two-stroke," said the Spaniard, who recorded impressive lap and race-distance times when he rode the YZR-M1 at Brno during August. "Like Brno we've been focusing on running consistently fast laps and looking at where the M1 performs better and worse than the 500, so we can improve the bike in every possible area. It's been tough, because concentrating so hard for four days isn't easy, especially when you've so much stuff to try. But I've enjoyed myself and it's been good to start working with some new staff within the team."
Yamaha have made various detail improvements to the powerful YZR-M1 over the past three months, and much of the Phillip Island tests were focused on evaluating different specification engines and chassis.
"We spent some time mixing and matching the various different combinations," said Marlboro Yamaha Team manager Geoff Crust. "We have several different engine and chassis specs, so we've been playing with them between the five different bikes we've got here. This is the first time since August that Max and Carlos have ridden the bike and it's their first chance to focus totally on the four-stroke, so they're concentrating on getting used to the bike and learning its character. They're forgetting the 500 and learning a whole new package.
"We've also done a lot of work here with Michelin. We assigned one day to tyre testing alone, trying some development tyres which we've never used before, and continuing to focus on race pace, rather than one-off quick laps. The results are promising and we'll continue learning at Sepang next week."
The Victorian weather mostly smiled on the team this week, though the morning of the last day was lost to rain and a few light showers interrupted proceedings on Tuesday.
Next weeks' Marlboro Yamaha Team tests at Sepang run from December 6-8, then the squad takes a well-earned break before resuming testing in Europe in January 2002. Next season's inaugural MotoGP series kicks off with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on April 7.
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