Preview Czech Grand Prix at Brno

Elliot Strong
by Elliot Strong
From Honda Racing Information:

2002 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 10
Czech Grand Prix, Brno
August 23/24/25 2002


The MotoGP circus reconvenes at Brno this weekend, commencing the secondphase of the 2002 World Championship after a five-week midseason break.Round ten of this year's 16-race campaign, the Czech GP is a crucial eventfor all concerned...

With a month's rest behind them (track testing was banned during the August recess), all riders will be anxious to get back upto speed as quickly as possible, not least MotoGP dominator Valentino Rossi(Repsol Honda Team RC211V).

Rossi ruled the first half of the season, taking eight wins from the first nine races, and will be determined to maintain his reign of supremacydespite growing opposition. So far the only man to have beaten him in 2002is team-mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V). The two riders havealso scored lap records at all nine tracks and pole positions at eight ofthe nine venues. In other words, the all-conquering RCV V5 four-stroke isthe bike to have in the new MotoGP World Championship. But from Brnoonwards there's be another RCV rider with whom Rossi and Ukawa mustcontend. Brilliant MotoGP rookie Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda GresiniRC211V) has been promoted from the NSR500s he's used so far and will beequipped with RCVs for the remainder of the season. And there will beanother RCV in the mix for the final four races, when HRC supply a bike tothe West Honda Pons squad.

"I'm expecting more competition as more RCVs arrive on the grid," saysRossi. "That's why I can't relax just yet. Our results have been great sofar, which is a credit to my team and the bike, but now we've got to keepworking."

Nonetheless, Rossi's situation at Brno is less tense than this time lastyear when he was involved in a tense battle for the last-ever 500 WorldChampionship with arch-rival Max Biaggi (Yamaha). The pair went into theCzech GP separated by just ten points, Biaggi leading the early stages,only to fall to earth, allowing Rossi to cruise to another win. "I thinkBrno is the masterpiece of my career because the mental situation was sodifficult before the race," reveals Rossi. "Though after Biaggi crashed itwasn't very much exciting. This year's race will be different for me, adifferent kind of pressure."

Rossi has already enjoyed great success at Brno. He scored his first-everGP victory at the epic track in 1996, in the 125 class, and added a 250 winin 1999 before completing the triple crown last August. The 23-year old isa big fan of the track that sweeps majestically across wooded hillsideswhich give riders the added complication of multiple elevation changes andnumerous negative-camber corners.

"We tested at Brno in June and I think this will help us at the GP, becausewe have a good base to start from," he adds. "During the tests we triedsome new suspension links and a selection of Michelin tyres, working toimprove traction and edge grip. I think we've made big steps since then, soI think we can be quite fast in the race."

Ukawa is currently second in the MotoGP title chase, 96 points down on histeam-mate. Badly battered from a crash during qualifying for the British GPin mid-July, the Japanese ace bravely rode to a third-place finish at theGerman GP the following weekend, then headed home to Japan to complete hisconvalescence. He had been expected to compete in the big Suzuka EightHours endurance race earlier this month, but decided to skip the event.

"The summer holiday came at the right time for me to get fully fit, I wasdisappointed not to do Suzuka but it was important to focus on GPs, so Ican give my best," says Ukawa. "I'm now very keen to maintain my positionin the championship. Six podiums and two lap records is the best start to aseason I've ever had but I think there will be more pressure from now on asteams develop their bikes."

The omens for Kato's four-stroke MotoGP debut are good. Although thereigning 250 World Champion has no four-stroke GP experience, he's alreadyproved his speed on four-strokes, most recently winning the Suzuka EightHours race on August 4, riding a Honda SP-2 Superbike in partnership withformer World Superbike champ Colin Edwards. SP-2s filled the first threepositions.

"That win was great for my confidence!" he smiles. "Now I face a big changein my GP career and I'm looking forward to it. The RCV is obviously anincredible motorcycle, but I expect it will take me a little time to getfully accustomed to the machine. We don't have much time to get the bikeright for me at Brno, so we must work hard, keep our focus and make steadyprogress during the last seven races."

West Honda Pons riders Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) and LorisCapirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) will have to wait a while longer to gettheir hands on an RCV, and in the meantime will continue with theirNSR500s. The Brazilian and Italian have been the fastest 500 riders of 2002so far, though Capirossi has been out of action for the past two months,after breaking his right wrist at Assen in late June. He returns to actionat Brno fully fit and a married man, after tying the knot with long-timegirlfriend Ingrid Tence earlier this month.

"I've been waiting a long time to start riding again, but the wrist seemsgood and strong," says Capirossi. "The worst thing about the injury wasthat I missed the two tracks where the 500s had a real chance ofwinning Donington and Sachsenring and now I'm returning at Brno, wherethe four-strokes will be difficult to beat. But that won't stop me trying.I'm looking forward to this race because I've missed riding."

Barros had less holiday than most of his MotoGP rivals. The veteran GP starwas part of the Honda line-up that totally dominated the Suzuka Eight Hourson August 4. Barros started the race from pole, set the fastest lap andfinished third, partnering Yuichi Takeda on a Honda VTR SP-2.

"I always enjoy the Eight Hours and think it's good for your riding," sayBarros, currently fourth overall behind Biaggi. "I've only been off a racebike for three weeks, while many of the other guys haven't ridden for fiveweeks. But Brno is a fast, wide circuit which will favour the more powerfulfour-strokes, plus I've got to readapt to the 500, so I'm not expecting aneasy weekend. My aim is to finish top two-stroke in this year'schampionship and we're looking good for that, though there's still a longway to go."

Winner of last year's Czech 250 GP, Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500)can't wait to get back in the saddle of his NSR500 at one of his favouritetracks. "The Brno layout is good for me," says Harada. "And our machinepackage gets better every race, so this could be a good one for us."

Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) has high hopes forthe latest batch of Bridgestone tires due at Brno. "Bridgestone have beenworking hard in the break, so we hope we'll have another big improvement,"says the Dutchman. "The tires keep getting better, though during the racein Germany I was still having understeer problems, with oversteer on gas.It will be interesting to see what I can do with the latest tires."Italian 250 firebrand Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) also hopesfor better things at Brno, and throughout the second phase of the 250season. Rolfo currently holds third overall in the 250 series, largelythanks to three brilliant runner-up rides, but he has yet to win a race."The bike keeps getting better at every GP and my team is working reallywell," he says. "But we need to keep working at getting the right feelingfor this race. Also, speed is important at Brno, which could be a concernfor us."

Team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) won't race at Brnobecause he recently underwent surgery for 'arm pump', a common racer'scondition which had been hampering his riding for some while. His placewill be taken by fellow Spaniard David Garcia.

Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) hopes for areturn to the podium at Brno, five weekends after a troubled ride toseventh at the German GP, his worst dry-weather result of the year. "Ithink the Sachsenring was the most difficult weekend of my career, so Ihope Brno will be very different," grins the teenager, who's currentlythird in the 125 points chart. "We need some good results at the next fewraces if I am to stay in contention for the title."

The Grand Prix season continues with the Portuguese GP, at Estoril, onSeptember 6/7/8. Then the circus embarks on a five-week, four-event tripoutside Europe, with races in Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Australia. Theyear ends at Valencia on November 3.

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