13 September 2004
2003 race summary
After a very strong qualifying performance during the opening two days of the Pacific Grand Prix, race day eventually brought mixed results for Yamaha. The highlight saw Marco Melandri ride a very determined 24-lap race to finish a respectable fifth place on the YZR-M1. It was a result that came after a first turn crash – involving Troy Bayliss (Ducati) and John Hopkins (Suzuki) – which forced the 21-year-old MotoGP rookie off the racing line, relegated him back to 19th on the opening lap. The news, however, was not so positive for Yamaha Team-mate Carlos Checa, who was unable to avoid the incident and was hit from behind, forcing the Spaniard off the track and out of the Pacific Grand Prix.
Round 12: Twin Ring Motegi, Japan
Track length: 4801 m
Fastest Lap Ever: 1′ 47.696 (Max Biaggi, 2003)
MotoGP lap record: 1′ 48.885 (Valentino Rossi, 2003)
Last year MotoGP winner: Max Biaggi
Circuit tel: +81 285 640001
Circuit web site: http://www.twinring.co.jp
Despite the setback Melandri collected his composure and, by lap two, he set the fastest lap of the race. He then proceeded to produce a string of competitive times up until the chequered flag – in an effort to make up for lost time. By lap four he was 11th, and by lap 13 the 2002 GP250 World Champion slipped into sixth. Melandri, as was the rest of the MotoGP field, was promoted one place with the disqualification of Makoto Tamada (Honda). The local hero crossed the line third only to be disqualified after the race – a result of a final lap incident involving Sete Gibernau that relegated the Honda rider from third to fifth.
Melandri was closely followed by Alex Barros (Yamaha), who eventually finished the race sixth after a very difficult start, while Shinya Nakano (Yamaha) claimed a disappointing ninth in front of his home crowd.
At the head of the pack Max Biaggi (Honda) produced a comfortable race win after Valentino Rossi (Honda) took an off-road excursion through the first turn gravel trap. The defending MotoGP World Champion escaped intact, but had lost eight places on his arch rival. Over the remaining laps Rossi then proceeded to reclaim lost ground, but had to eventually settle for second place. The podium was completed by MotoGP rookie Nicky Hayden (Honda).
Set-up report YZR-M1
Like many things designed and built in Japan, Motegi is unsurpassed in its design and circuit quality – the surface is seamlessly smooth, offering high levels of grip, and the facilities are exceptional. Yet, despite this high attention to technical detail the Motegi layout is far from being a technically challenging circuit. A series of drag strips, linked together by continual radius second gear corners, is the foundation to the formula – a layout that isn’t liked by many, and disliked by more. Even so it is still technical enough that outright power isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to winning races here.
In fact in some respects too much aggressive power can be a hindrance at this particular venue. As a result this should prove to be of benefit to the 2004 YZR-M1, which has become more predictable in its power delivery and ridable in character. These performance traits are essential since most of the 250 horsepower will be driven through to the rear wheel on the exit of second and third gear corners, only moments after completing some rather heavy braking.
This combination of hard braking to hard acceleration complicates things further with the aggressive weight transfer being a catalyst for instability. For this reason a balanced and usable base geometry will be the focal point for those riding the M1.
The main aim in both instances (acceleration and braking) is to cater for the aggressive weight transfer by minimizing the pitching effect. To do this the basic chassis package won’t be too far removed from what was run during the Le Mans test earlier in the year. The rear of the bike will be slightly lower and the front set slightly higher, when compared to other circuits, to offer the braking stability needed – reducing the likelihood of the rear wheel leaving the tarmac. The front fork springs will boast a slightly higher spring rate, but unlike Le Mans, the damping won’t have to cater for any real bumps during the period the front forks are compressed.
The rear shock on the other hand will run a slightly softer spring with a high amount of preload. This will help to offer the feel and consistency under power while preventing the bike from squatting to the point which can cause it to run wide or, in extreme circumstances, wheelie. At the same time suspension technicians will also have to consider the effects of the rear shock pumping through its stroke – a common concern on a track where the bike is driving hard off a slow speed hairpin.