Capirossi Turns up the Heat

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
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A fortnight after a stunning start to MotoGP racing's new four-stroke era at a rain-lashed Suzuka in Japan, the action started off in the first practice laps with a complete contrast in the hot and dusty conditions at the Phakisa Freeway circuit in South Africa. With the sun beating down on the Welkom based track, Loris Capirossi has shown that he aims to gain revenge on his four-stroke rivals who dominated at Suzuka. Loris topped the day's qualifying list with his two-stroke NSR500 Honda with Valentino Rossi hot on his heels on his four-stroke. The usual suspects were right up there with them; Biaggi, Barros, Laconi, Gibernau and Ukawa. McCoy set the best speed of 266 km but finished way down the field. This is not unexpected due to his injury...

Loris Capirossi, whose confidence in his NSR500 and love of the 4.242 km Phakisa track is likely to be the biggest threat to the 23 year old Valentino Rossi during Saturday's qualifier, said "Although I'm still riding a 500, I have a much better package than last year. The new NSR is maybe 50 percent better than the 2000 model I raced last season, it's' much easier to go fast with this bike. I'm one second faster than last year at most tracks, easy! The balance is better and it uses its tyres less. Also the new tyres we have from Michelin are a big improvement. We are using the same 16.5in rears that the four-stroke guys use and these tyres have more grip, they're more consistent and they make the bike more stable, so it moves around less. They are another step on from the 16.5s we started using last year."

It promises to be a scorching weekend, and once again a test for the tyre manufacturers. "Welkom and Phillip Island are the toughest ciruits on tyres, though Phillip Island only really works the rear", reveals Michelin's manager Emmanuel Fournier "even the front has to work very hard at Welkom, running at very high temperature. The circuit is difficult for many reasons: it's slippery, it's bumpy, it has some very fast corners, plus it's usually very hot and dusty"

2001 saw Katoh and Harada shoot it out for the entire season, but with them moving up to the top MotoGP class, their absence in 2002 from the 250cc Championship makes it something of a guessing game. Battling out in the 250cc were Alex Debon, Marco Melandri, Roberto Rolfo (who is on Daijiro Katoh's title-winning Honda), Sebastian Porto and Fonsi Nieto who all turned in laps of just over 1'39. Waiting to justify his promotion from 125cc is the electrifying young Spaniard, Toni Elias.

Proving that experience counts, Manuel Poggiali put in 5 laps under 1'45 in the 125cc class and seems set to defend his first World Championship win. Just outside the 1'45 mark were Cecchinello, Giansanti, Azuma, Vincent, Nieto, Borsoi, and Ui. Snapping at their heels were youngsters Dani Pedrosa (16 years old) and his Telefonica Movistar team-mate, Joan Olive (17 years old). Veterans of the 125cc class still face some serious challenges from the `young guns' entering their first season of MotoGP with nearly half of the thirty one riders lining up for the 125cc aged 19 years and younger.

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