MAX FALLS AND FIGHTS BACK, TOHRU RIDES TO SIXTH
If anyone thought last week at Mugello was as good as MotoGP racing gets, then this weekend’s Catalan Grand Prix has set a new level for drama. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) won the
Italian factory their first MotoGP victory after taking the lead from Valentino Rossi (Honda) on lap 16 of the 25-lap race. Rossi finished second and Sete Gibernau (Honda) third. But that is not even half the story.
Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) was fighting for third place on lap 24 after being as high as second mid-race when he ran into the gravel in the stadium section of the track. He fell but instantly remounted to finish a brave 14th netting 2 World Championship points that could yet prove vital with so much of this compelling season yet to run.
Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) was plagued by an engine that was not quite operating at peak performance. But the determined Japanese fought his way to a gritty sixth place in the heat of southern Spain and the team is determined to eradicate the problem during testing at the track tomorrow (Monday June 16).
Loris Capirossi led into the esses at the end of the start/finish straight on the first lap and Max had elevated his Camel Pramac Pons machine to fourth place by lap two from the third row of the grid. And by lap four the leading trio was Rossi, Capirossi and Max.
By lap 16 Gibernau had begun to challenge Max for third place, and the Roman was keeping him at bay. On the same lap Capirossi fired his Ducati inside Rossi to take the lead in
the stadium section and on the next lap Rossi ran into the gravel trap at turn four while trying to retake the lead from Capirossi. He stayed on and rejoined the race in sixth.
Max was yet to perform his remounting heroics, but Rossi now had to stage a recovery – and it was a memorable one. He passed Shinya Nakano (Yamaha), Carlos Checa (Yamaha) and
then Max in one lap. Then he took Gibernau and began to attack leader Capirossi. Rossi managed to close the gap down to 2.9 seconds on the penultimate lap, but it was 3.075
seconds at the finish.
Checa fought through from seventh on lap one to finish just off the podium in fourth at his home Grand Prix while Shinya Nakano continued a minor Yamaha revival with a fifth place.
1. Loris Capirossi (Honda) 44m 21.758
2. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 44m 24.833s
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 44m 26.102s
4. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 44m 26.693s
5. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 44m 26.761
6. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 44m 42.345s
7. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 44m 44.740s
8. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 44m 46.747s
9. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 44m 48.917s
10. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 44m 52.134s
14. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 45m 04.083s
World Championship standings after six of 16 rounds:
1.Valentino Rossi (Honda) 135 points
2. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 88 points
3. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 85 points
4. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 61 points
5. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 54 points
6. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 52 points
7. Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 46 points
8. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 44 points
9. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 34 points
10. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 34 points
Max Biaggi (14th): “When I tried to pass Sete I went in and tried 100%, maybe too much. I had to brake real hard, I just braked and braked and just couldn’t stop when I went into the gravel. I’ve had problems with hard braking all weekend with the rear moving around too much and I was never really confident of the feel of the bike on the brakes. I tried my hardest, but today Ducati and Rossi were faster. The Championship keeps moving on and we need to wake up.”
Tohru Ukawa (sixth): “I had the same engine problems as yesterday and we ran out time to make things work properly. I don’t even know if the chassis and tyres were okay because I wasn’t even able to push hard enough to find out. I’m bitterly disappointed. At the start of the year all our tests were good but since the start of the season things just haven’t been right. We’re testing here tomorrow and we’ve got to get things right.”
BIAGGI AND UKAWA TO START FROM THIRD ROW
In searing heat at Catalunya Camel Pramac Pons riders Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa worked hard at improving their qualifying times from yesterday’s session. And although the determined duo both shaved valuable tenths of a second off their Friday times, neither rider could quite get close enough to the 1m 43.927s pole time of Valentino Rossi (Honda).
Rossi was the only rider to get under the 1m 43s mark and although Loris Capirossi (Ducati) ran him closest with a 1m 44.333s time for second place on tomorrow’s grid, the reigning World Champion looks to have the upper hand here.
The track temperature was even higher than yesterday at a staggering 55 degrees and the punishing conditions made everybody struggle. Of the front row qualifiers only Olivier Jacque (Yamaha) improved on his time from yesterday. He starts from third place tomorrow after chasing pole man Rossi to achieve a 1m 44.358 lap.
The final front row qualifier was Sete Gibernau (Honda) and he did enough to wow the home crowd and secure himself a vital front row start in a race that is likely to prove even more gruelling than last weekend’s event at sweltering Mugello.
The second row is headed by Alex Barros (Yamaha) who ran as high as fourth earlier in the session. Lining up next to him is Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) who has matched the speed he
showed in Italy last week. He too was headed for a front row berth until he was displaced with three minutes to go.
Colin Edwards (Aprilia) and local man Carlos Checa (Yamaha) fill slots seven and eight on the second row with Max leading row three from ninth. Max and Tohru in eleventh are split by Makoto Tamada (Honda) with Ducati rider Troy Bayliss completing row three.
Both Max and Tohru know that an effective race set-up can be worth more than an elevated grid position in conditions as punishing as this and the pair have tomorrow morning’s warm-up session to put in further work finding the extra pace they need for the race.
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m 43.927s
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1m 44.333s
3. Olivier Jacque (Yamaha) 1m 44.358s
4. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 1m 44.366s
5. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 1m 44.642s
6. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 1m 44.672s
7. Colin Edwards (Aprilia) 1m 44.708s
8. Carlos Checa (Yamaha) 1m 44.790s
9. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 44.848s
10. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 1m 44.922s
11. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 45.039s
Max Biaggi (ninth): “As ever the team did their best but we have two problems at the moment and they are both related to each other. The bike does not have enough traction and if we make changes to remedy that – the bike wheelies. We keep changing the weight distribution but both problems are still there. At a track like this with long corners spent at full lean angle the rear keeps sliding because of the traction difficulties. We’ll keep working at it and I just hope we can get it fixed before the race.”
Tohru Ukawa (eleventh): “That was difficult, I’ve made a little improvement to my time, but not nearly enough. The worst thing was that my lap times weren’t even consistent and I’ve at least got to be able to find consistency for tomorrow. No 1 machine had ignition problems so I switch the number two and the set-up was not so good. We’ll try again in warm-up tomorrow but the conditions will be slightly different and it’s the heat that’s one of the problems.”
SPANISH LEGENDS PONS AND NIETO HONOURED
Spanish World Champions Sito Pons and Angel Nieto were honoured in a special ceremony at the Circuit De Catalunya on Thursday. They joined World 500cc Alex Criville and Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher by having plaques to commemorate their Championship feats placed on the avenue approaching the main grandstand on the start and finish straight.
Sito Pons, the Principal of the Camel Pramac team, won the 250cc World Championship in 1988 and 1989, winning 15 grand prix races.
Angel Nieto won 13 World Championships in the 50 and 125cc World Championships. He won an astonishing 62 125cc grand prix on route to seven world titles.
ROBERTS ON THE SIDELINES
Three years ago Kenny Roberts won the Cataluyna Grand Prix in Barcelona but this time he had to sit out the race following his crash at Mugello the previous week.
The American Suzuki rider was involved in an unfortunate collision with his own Suzuki team-mate John Hopkins during the Italian Grand Prix. Although no bones were broken Roberts is still in considerable pain around his collarbone and was riding round the Barcelona paddock on his scooter, using just one hand. Hopkins decided to race despite a painful shoulder and arm. Both riders had plenty of moral support with 1993 World 500 Champion Kevin Schwantz and off-road legend Jean-Michel Bayle guests of the Suzuki team.
DON’T FORGET – LATER RACES IN ASSEN
Often people forget the Dutch TT at Assen is always held on a Saturday and not on a Sunday. This year there will be more to remember.
All races will start one hour thirty minutes later than the normal schedule. And so remember. 125 12.45 pm, 250 at 14.00 and MotoGP at 15.30.
Let’s hope nobody has an early flight from Amsterdam booked.
All practice, qualifying and warm-up sessions remain the same as always.
The date – Saturday June 28.
ROSSI IN CONTRACT TALKS
World Champion Valentino Rossi and his advisers are talking to Honda about a new contract for the Italian superstar. Rossi current contract runs out at the end of this year and the World Champion said on Thursday he wanted to sort out a new contract as soon as possible and he would like to stay at Honda, if both parties could agree on all the terms.
Expect a few zeros to be added to the final figure before agreement is reached.
STAGGERING 80,000 TICKETS ALREADY SOLD
A staggering 80,000 Sunday race day tickets have already been sold for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring on July 27. The organisers are expecting a weekend crowd approaching 200,000 for the ninth round of the MotoGP Championship.
The organisers of the British Grand Prix at Donington Park on July 13 have already sold double the amount of weekend tickets for the event than they did last year.
TOP SPEED SHOOT-OUT DISAPPOINTMENT
The high-speed shoot-out between the MotoGP machines and Michael Schumacher’s Formula One Ferrari never materialised in Barcelona because of the hot weather.
After the amazing speeds recorded at Mugello last week by Loris Capirossi, 332.4 kph through the speed trap, it was generally expected that he would be fastest than Schumacher at the end of the Barcelona straight but it was not the case.
The World Champion’s Ferrari recorded a speed of 331.5 km/h when he won the recent Spanish Grand Prix. Capirossi’s top speed after the second qualifying session was a mere 325.9 km/h.
BIAGGI AND UKAWA WORKING TOWARDS SET-UP SOLUTIONS
Camel Pramac Pons riders Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa each put in a hard hour’s work in today’s first qualifying session to find a workable machine set-up with track temperatures as
high as 53 degrees. Valentino Rossi (Honda) took the provisional pole position with a lap time of 1m 43.927s.
Max currently lies sixth and Tohru ninth, and the team will study the data hard overnight to achieve the machine characteristics that will enable the Camel Pramac Pons riders to elevate their grid positions in tomorrow afternoon’s final qualifying session.
The extreme heat affects tyre, suspension and engine performance, and with two extremely hot Grand Prix occurring in quick succession, there are still more options to be tried in the continual quest for the optimum set-up.
Rossi was the first rider to dip below the 1m 44s mark with his provisional pole lap and Max Biaggi will be determined to better his own 1m 45.065s time of today. Max set the pole time last year and knows what it takes to be top qualifier at this demanding track.
Loris Capirossi (Ducati) continued his run of form from Mugello last weekend with a time that sees him lie second overnight. Spanish home-hope Sete Gibernau (Honda) wowed the crowd by going top of the standings with eight minutes to go before being shunted down to third when Rossi and Capirossi bettered his time with one minute of the session remaining.
Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) is another rider who’s kept his Mugello form intact and he lies fourth on the front row with a 1m 44.765s time. The rider who’s rapidly got up to speed in his rookie season is Makoto Tamada (Honda) who heads the second row.
But Max and Tohru are lurking with intent and their huge riding talents combined with the vastly experienced engineering skills within the Camel Pramac Pons operation should see a different story emerge tomorrow.
1. Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m 43.927s
2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1m 44.333s
3. Sete Gibernau (Honda) 1m 44.366s
4. Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) 1m 44.765s
5. Makoto Tamada (Honda) 1m 44.922s
6. Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons) 1m 45.065s
7. Colin Edwards (Aprilia) 1m 45.106
8. Alex Barros (Yamaha) 1m 45.139s
9. Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons)
10. Olivier Jacque (Yamaha) 1m 45.369s
Tohru Ukawa (ninth):
“I haven’t got enough feeling from the bike at the moment. The crash this morning didn’t help and the heat is what we’re finding hard to deal with at the moment. We were much faster in testing here but the conditions are so completely different that we’re basically starting from scratch here. The front end is where we need to do the work and we can improve the injection settings too.”
Max Biaggi (sixth):
“I haven’t got enough traction. We’ve tried a few things already and it doesn’t look like it’s
going to be easy here this weekend. Rear grip is where the problem is and the front feels a bit light at the moment too. The problems are similar to the ones we faced at Mugello and we’ll sift through the data and try to sort it out.”
CATALUNYA GRAND PRIX – BARCELONA, JUNE 15 – FACT FILE
The Camel Pramac Pons team return home to race at the modern 4.727 Circuit De Catalunya on the north eastern outskirts of Barcelona. Similar to the last round at Mugello in Italy,
the track incorporates a long 1.047 kms straight where speeds of around 330 kp/h where achieved in the pre-season IRTA test.
The undulating nature of the circuit and especially the long up hill bend, provide a special test for engineers and tyres while the remainder of the track is a combination of fast and slow corners.
The circuit was opened in 1991 and staged it´s first motorcycle grand prix a year later, the Grand Prix of Europe. The track, which was slightly modified in 1995, has staged a grand prix every year since with the name switching to the Grand Prix of Catalunya in 1996, which was won by Carlos Checa for the Honda Pons team.
Facilities at the circuit, which also hosts the Spanish Formula One car grand prix, are superb with an extra tier being added last year to the impressive grandstand on the start and finish straight.
Max Biaggi has a great record at the circuit winning four successive 250cc grands prix between 1993-1996. Last year he started the MotoGP race from pole position while he was
second in 2001. Tohru Ukawa was second last year in the MotoGP race and was second in the 250cc race in 1999 and the year later.
There may be three MotoGP races in Spain each year, but there will be a massive patriotic crowd at Barcelona on Sunday, looking to their local Camel Pramac Pons team to bringing them home success.
CATALUNYA GRAND PRIX – BARCELONA, JUNE 15 – TRACK FACTS
Length: 4.727 kms
Pole Position: Left
Right corners: Six
Left Corners: Five
Longest Straight: 1.047 metres
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m45.594s – 161.157 kp/h ( 16/6/02)
Pole setting lap:
Max Biaggi (Yamaha) 1m44.523s – 162.808 kp/h
2002 Race winner:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 44m20.679s – 159.895 kp/h
Tohru Ukawa 2002: Second
Max Biaggi 2002: Fourth
COBAS INSIGHT – Antonio Cobas, the Technical Director of Camel Pramac Pons
This is such an important race for us because we are at home and especially want to well in front of the Barcelona crowd. We often test at the track, we know it well and that has enabled to achieve some very good results there. Carlos Checa won there for us and so it´s one of our most successful circuits.
Following the pre-season IRTA tests at the circuit we are confident for the weekend, after some impressive lap times by Max and Tohru. It´s a good track for our RC 211V four-stroke Hondas with not so many small corners that require hard braking and quick acceleration. Barcelona is more of a normal track with the very clear design of a long straight and a combination of fast and slow corners. Our biggest problem is the undulating nature of the circuit which requires special attention to the geometry and the suspension but we have plenty of experience and should get it right.
The long right hand corner up the hill has the longest radius of any bend in the MotoGP calendar and just goes on and on. Any small difference of speed through this section
can make a big difference to the lap time. It’s vital to get the set-up right because if you don’t, it can make a big change.
We are confident about getting the rest of the track right and I’m sure we can do a good job there as long as we get that long up hill bend set-up correctly.
The track also has special characteristics for the tyres. The front tyre takes a lot more wear than at other tracks This is because of that long up hill bend followed by the down hill section which really takes it out of the front tyre. We don’t exactly know why, but the choice of the front tyre is always much more critical than the rear.
It’s always good to race in Barcelona with almost the whole team living in and around the City. It really is our home race which makes life different to all the other grand prixs.
The grey streaks are starting to appear in those lucky enough to have enough hair, but the enthusiasm and commitment to the cause is as strong as it was when they started out on their great adventure 22 years ago. You just have to spend a weekend with the Camel Pramac Pons team in the volatile atmosphere of a grand prix garage to understand why so many of that original team have stuck it out through good and bad times, to support Sito Pons.
First it was as rider who went on to win the 250cc World Championship in 1988/89, and then as the Team Principal in the toughest of all sporting arenas, the MotoGP World Championship.
It sounds a fantastic life, travelling the world to 16 Grand Prix races in five separate continents over a eight month period. In reality it’s tough both physically, but perhaps even more so, mentally. Long periods away from home and family are bound to create problems and problems lead to mistakes and mistakes can lead to non finishes or even worse, crashes.
Running a successful team is so much more than pulling in a massive budget, signing two top riders and putting them out on competitive machinery. Money of course helps, but that basic infrastructure of trust and understanding is a vital competent of any successful team in all World Championship sport.
“Human power is the most important part of our team,” explained Sito Pons, sitting in the palatial surrounding of his team’s hospitality centre.” I think the advantage we have over the others is our relationship with all the team members and the quality of their work. The key people in our team like Antonio Cobas and Santi Mulero have been with me for over 20 years while others have been with us for over ten.”
“This life is very complicated because to travel round the world every year is very hard for everybody. Only people with great enthusiasm can carry out this job for 20 years,
travelling nearly every weekend. Those key people, like myself are fanatics about the sport. On the technical side, we have forged a very close and loyal relationship with Honda over the last 18 years.”
Personal problems a long way from home can build into major problems when not surrounded by family and friends. Having somebody to talk things out with, is so very important.
“My relationship with the team members is vital because problems can build up for them if they have nobody to talk to,” revealed Pons. “It’s important that people have the trust to be able to speak to me about these things. If we see a guy is not happy we will speak to him and try and
discover what the problem is and if we can help. The team know we will always take care of them. The senior members of the team will always try and help the newer members. As I
said before, the power of the people working in the team is the most important.”
“I think the riders feel this when they join our team. They know they just have to concentrate on riding the bike because everybody knows their duties and roles. There is no confusion and misunderstanding. This structure has been built over the last 20 years.”
Many people in all walks of life have fallen into the trap of assuming that money and money along can buy success. That, as in most cases, just does not happen in MotoGP.
“You can have a lot of money but to build a good team you need time and trust. Money can´t buy time and to get the right person in every single job and having good communication between all members is very difficult. We have seen many teams come into the sport with a big budget but they find problems with misunderstandings and bad relationships. That reflects in their performance on the track, where you can see the mistakes because these things are happening. All successful teams have been together for a long time. We try to keep the same people, which is not always easy because people want to improve but we do our best to keep everybody together.”
Of course people do leave and they have to be replaced. Typically the team have a unique way of keeping their family tradition and values alive. An agreement between the team and a local college ensures that a fresh supply of new talent is being trained, often on site.
“We have an agreement with Montllau College of Professional Mechanics in Barcelona who every other European Grand Prix send us two students,” explained the former World Champion.
“That means we have the capacity to analyse the guys and see how they work while we have all the information from the college about their backgrounds and abilities. They are young people who have great enthusiasm and it’s a very good system to find replacements in the team, when needed. Already we have four students from the college who are now working for us full time.”
Those new students will find themselves in good hands because for 22 years Sito Pons and his team have thrived , showing that trust and understanding still have their place in such a volatile and commercial world. Twenty five Grand Prix victories and 93 podium finishes have not been achieved on money alone.