IRTA test: Rossi leads the way

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18,000 fans turned out to see Valentino Rossi dominate the IRTA GP test at the Catalunya circuit near Barcelona at the weekend.

It was the first clash between the new four-stroke title contenders and although he ended up only 0.2s faster than compatriot Loris Capirossi, the final times don’t truly reflect the 22-year-old Italian’s utter dominance of the two-day test on his Honda RCV five-cylinder.

Only for about an hour of the 16 hours of track time was Rossi not on top spot, and when he wasn’t the honours went to his Repsol team-mate Tohru Ukawa.

Rossi’s 1.44.28, set with just over an hour of the final day remaining, was a massive 2.4s inside his own lap record set on the Nastro Azzurro NSR500 two-stroke. It was also 1.3s better than the previous fastest ever time at the Catalunya track, and that was his pole position time set at last year’s GP.

And Rossi thinks the bike still has room for improvement.

He ended up hammering Max Biaggi by 1.3s as the Marlboro Yamaha rider could only finish seventh fastest.

Rossi said: " We still have some work to do. One area is in braking because the bike is difficult to stop. It is quite nervous going into corners. "

Rossi’s crew chief Jerry Burgess said the stability under braking problems were down more to the suspension settings than any troubles with the bike.

Biaggi said: " We need about another 20 horsepower. I think Yamaha needs to investigate why we are struggling. I have to be positive but I want something to change and fast. The difference is huge and I have to pass on my congratulations to Honda because what they have done is brilliant. I hope the factory looks at what Honda has done. Time is not on our side but we need a big step. "

Carlos Checa could only get within 0.9s of Rossi.

The Spaniard said: " Rossi is going to be the man to beat in Suzuka, no question. Like Max, I know the bike has many limitations. I need more torque and a better connection between the throttle and the rear tyre. We have to improve by at least half-a-second-a-lap before we can even consider getting near Rossi and Honda. "

The first GP is at Suzuka, Japan, on April 7.

There’s much more on this and how the whole paddock performed in the IRTA tests in MCN, out on Wednesday, March 13, 2002.

And don’t forget MCN Sport magazine is out on March 15 with our greatest season preview ever.

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in Sport…

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff