With Valentino Rossi crowned World Champion for the fourth successive year in the premier class after his latest astonishing win at the Australian Grand Prix, the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team can look forward to one final challenge at the final race of the year in Valencia, Spain.
As Yamaha’s Factory team leads the Team Championship by just one point, it will be up to both Rossi and his team-mate Carlos Checa to finish the season on respective high notes and help secure the only title that still remains undecided in this year’s MotoGP World Championship.
Since Rossi’s stunning inaugural victory with Yamaha at the first race of the year at Welkom in April, the combination of rider and machine has proved even more potent than anyone in the team had dared hope. Rossi has scored a new Yamaha win record in one season thanks to eight victories in the premier class this year. The charismatic Italian has also taken five pole positions riding the inline-four Yamaha YZR-M1, and is now one of only four riders who have won four successive premier class world titles in the history of the sport.
Checa’s return to Europe will signal not just a homecoming to his native land, but the last race in his long association with the Yamaha Factory Team, which began in 1999. Checa, like every other rider in MotoGP, has found Rossi a force to be reckoned with this season, although he proved his determined ability when he scored second to Rossi’s fourth at Le Mans and was on pole at the Qatar round just a few weeks ago. In front of his home crowd for the third time in 2004, Checa is particularly keen to end his season in style with a good result, and is a tantalising two points away from improving his championship finish to overall seventh. He will not be short of support in his quest, as Valencia has consistently enjoyed the best spectator attendance records in recent MotoGP history.
ROSSI HUNGRY FOR ANOTHER WIN
For 2004 World Champion Rossi, Valencia offers him the chance to concentrate on a single race without the championship fight creating an additional distraction. “I wanted to go to Valencia with the championship itself closed, and that is now possible. Before our championship victory in Australia I was feeling a little scared of Valencia because the Spanish riders always go for it so much. I know Sete will be going for it there and it would have been a really pressured showdown. I am still really looking forward to racing there, it will be a lot less pressure for me now. I still want a great result of course!”
The very nature of the Valencia circuit may not play into Rossi’s hands. The multiple World Champion said, “I was never certain that Valencia would be a good track for the M1 because we haven’t tested there. We knew that we could do well at Sepang and Phillip Island, the last two tracks, because of the good results of our tests earlier in the season. Valencia could be another matter, but we will see.”
Rossi is looking forward to the last leg of his remarkable 2004 campaign, and even further ahead to his 2005 collaboration with Yamaha. “We will have another great battle in Valencia,” he remarked, “but for sure I am staying with Yamaha next year. It is going to be hard next year because Sete and Max will be on factory Hondas, and will come back very strong. But we too will be even stronger than this year, because we have all the data from the full season.”
CHECA DETERMINED TO SIGN OFF IN STYLE
For Checa, the Valencia race will be a landmark in his career, and in the recent history of Yamaha, as it will be the Spanish rider’s final outing on the M1. “The track layout is not the most interesting but it is important for me in many ways, especially as the circuit is in Spain,” said Carlos. “In fact, it is possibly the most important track for me.”
The last race has significance to any competitor, as Carlos recognises. “As a rider of any nationality you always want to have a good last race in your season, as this is the result you will take into the winter with you. To get a good result in front of that home crowd would be fantastic as well.”
Of his final Yamaha season, and the future, Checa commented, “We have done well in some races, in some we have been not so good and maybe I am thinking about next year already. For Valencia I want to find the best settings on the bike and see how good a chance we have. I would like to do well at Valencia; it is my last race with Yamaha after six years so I want to finish in a really good position.”
DAVIDE BRIVIO, GAULOISES FORTUNA YAMAHA TEAM DIRECTOR
One of the guiding lights behind the successful push to the championship, Davide Brivio, recognises that Valencia will be a race like no other this season. “Valencia is a kind of special race for us," he asserted. "Valentino is already the champion, but of course we will go there intending to win."
Even with the pressure off, the desire to win is still strong. Said Brivio, "It is good to go there and enjoy a race without thinking of the championship. I think the Yamaha can be good there, the bike might suit the track and we fully intend to enjoy the race, while still going for the best possible outcome. We want to leave with something to remember the fantastic season we have had."
Brivio hopes to wave farewell to long-term Yamaha rider Checa with a result that would please everyone involved in the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team. "For Carlos this will be his last race with Yamaha and that is also important. I hope we can manage to conclude our relationship in the best possible way, with success on the track."
Advertising itself as a circuit that is also a stadium, the Valencia track is a beautifully appointed, if somewhat cramped, facility where slower corners are the norm. Occupying a small footprint off the side of the Madrid/Valencia freeway, the Ricardo Tormo circuit features a seemingly never ending burst of tight corners, connected by short straights. The long penultimate looping left-hander and the fast entry to turn one contrast violently with the otherwise geometric flip-flop chicanes and slow speed corners of the infield.
More suitable for the smaller classes, Valencia is an awesome challenge in its own way for any MotoGP rider; an intense exercise in concentration and preparation, as the track can easily catch out the unwary, especially in the frequently wet conditions of a winter’s afternoon in late October.
The continual stop-start nature of Valencia means that suspension setting must offer the correct balance between beneficial weight transfer, which aids alternately front and rear grip, and firm enough settings for spring rates and compression damping, to prevent the machine oscillating as the power is turned on and off. With short but highly loaded periods of front end grip required throughout a lap, and with a lot of corner entries with the brakes still applied, the balance between agility and stability has to fall on the side of greater manoeuvrability. Nonetheless the bike has to be planted enough not to lose corner speed through the quick penultimate corner, which runs over the brow of a hill, or induce tail hopping under hard braking from 300km/h.
Instantaneous and yet linear throttle response is a highly desired commodity at Valencia, its point and squirt nature demanding a combination of controlled throttle openings on the many low speed corner exits, with a clean and crisp power off nature required on entry. The relatively low gearing of Valencia exacerbates the potential for highsides even further, as most of the lap is spent in second gear, with an entire three-corner complex taken in first gear. Nonetheless, most crashes come from a loss of front grip on the high number of downhill corner entries.
VALENTINO ROSSI: INFORMATION
Lives: London, UK
Bike: Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1
GP victories: 67 (28 x MotoGP, 13 x 500cc, 14 x 250cc, 12 x 125cc)
First GP victory: Czech Republic, 1996 (125cc)
First GP: Malaysia, 1996 (125cc)
GP starts: 139 (46 x MotoGP, 32 x 500cc, 30 x 250cc, 30 x 125cc)
Pole positions: 35
Valencia 2003 results: Grid: 1st (Honda): Race 1st
CARLOS CHECA: INFORMATION
Lives: London, UK
Bike: Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1
GP victories: 2 (500cc)
First GP victory: Catalunya, 1996 (500cc)
First GP: Europe, 1993 (125cc)
GP starts: 167 (46 x MotoGP, 92 x 500cc, 27 x 250cc, 1 x 125cc)
Pole positions: 3 (2 x MotoGP, 1 x 500cc)
First pole: Spain, 1998 (500cc)
Valencia 2003 results (Yamaha): Grid: 5th, Race: 5th
Valencia MotoGP lap record – Valentino Rossi (Honda): 1’33.317s (2003)
Circuit best lap – Valentino Rossi (Honda): 1’32.478s (2003)