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Chaz Checks In...Estoril

After the Czech GP we flew home on Monday ready for another 3 week break before the next GP at Estoril, Portugal. It was quite a quiet break which I spent training and also decided to invest in a second-hand drum kit. Playing the drums is something I have always wanted to be good at and as I am not at school now, I needed something to pass some time away in between GP's. I have booked to have some lessons & I am also starting a woodwork course in the evenings at the end of September.

We flew to Portugal on the Wednesday before the race (no dramas' at the airport apart from being a little late) and Dieter my team manager met us at the airport and took us to the circuit.

On Thursday I did a couple of laps of the track on the scooter. The Estoril circuit is a fairly good circuit with a bit of everything in it but it is quite bumpy and after going to the Brno circuit with its' fast, really wide, flowing corners you really have to re-adjust yourself because Estoril is quite the opposite.

On Friday morning I ran in new pistons for 6 laps and familiarized myself with the track. On the Aprilia's you tend to get quite a harsh feeling over the bumps because the chassis is quite stiff, but from the start of the session, the set-up felt quite good. After "running in" I was comfortably getting faster & faster but had a slight problem with
the engine. When I tried to go 100% throttle, the engine would die down so I had to roll off then bring it back on and it would clear out. On my 11th lap this happened and I was slightly off line on the way into the left before the back straight. Because I was wide, I tried to pull the bike back in, but I lost the front! The crash was only very slow and
the bike was damaged very little but it was enough to stop me getting back out again.

Not the ideal way to start the weekend but I felt confident I could go faster as generally everything was feeling pretty good. The plan for the afternoons' first qualifying was too try & make up for the lost laps in the morning and then build up to a good rhythm. I did my "out" lap and was three-quarters of the way through my first flying lap when the
engine made a screeching noise and then locked the rear wheel. I caught it on the clutch and coasted onto the grass. I thought the bike had seized but after it was stripped, it turned out that the crank had gone. We normally replace the crank, in the evening, after the first day of practice & qualifying so we were just unlucky. My chief mechanic said
that some cranks will do 300kms & others 1500kms. This crank had done 1100kms!

So all in all, just 12 & three-quarter laps completed for Friday, but it could have been worse, it could of been 12& three-quarter laps with the bike not handling at all and a lot of work to do on Saturday. As it was the bike felt pretty good.

Again, the plan for Saturday morning was to try & get as many laps in as possible to make up for lost time. For the first six laps I ran in a new engine and after that the session went quite smoothly. The engine was still a bit rich like Friday morning but I completed a session with quite a few consistent laps so I could not complain. I was in 20th position but half a second would put me 12th so I was pretty happy considering the little track time I had had, compared to the other riders. For the afternoons 2nd qualifying session we made a slight tweak to stiffen up the front suspension as it was quite soft and close to bottoming on some parts of the bumpy track. The engine was slightly better than in the morning but not perfect. I struggled to go much faster than I had in the morning until the last fifteen minutes when we put on some new tyres and I could push much harder. I finished the session in 14th position which was my best qualifying position to date. The lap was not perfect though and I knew with a perfect lap I could of been on the 3rd row. However the overall set-up was still feeling generally good and as I was getting faster, during the session, we again stiffened up the front as it was still bottoming on some parts of the track.

The place where I gained most of my time was through the final corner. This corner, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult in the whole of the Grand Prix calendar. It's so long and it feels like it goes on forever, also it is difficult to judge where to get on the gas. My telemetry man (& former 250cc rider) Klaus Nohles gave me a tip & suggested to look for the two big trees on the outside of the circuit and when you see them it is time to get on the gas. I tried this & it's about the perfect spot so thanks Klaus! It is so important to get this corner right because you can lose so much through it but even more on the exit because of the long straight after it.

In morning warm up we ran with a full race distance tank of fuel as we normally do. We stiffened up the front again because of the extra weight from the fuel and I managed to more or less match my qualifying lap for 5 consecutive laps. I was feeling very confident for a top 12 in the race.

At the start of the race I got a good initial start but then the bike died down (we think it went onto 1 cylinder) and I started being passed very quickly. I had gone from 14th to 20th in 1 lap (the opposite to Brno) I started picking my way through some of the riders that had initially passed me but my engine did not feel very strong at all. I was
struggling to slip-stream most bikes. I got into 16th position after passing a few of the wild cards and I was at the back of a dice for 12th position. I was trying to make progress by passing riders in the tight sections but after I passed them, I would be passed back again down the straights because my engine was not strong at all. On lap 7 I went into the tight chicane and lost the front. I managed to pick the bike back up
and the marshals gave me a push to get going again but I had been on the floor for too long and was dead last! It took a fair few laps to wind up again because the left handle bar was slightly bent downwards and the foot peg on the left hand side had ground away. After 3 laps I settled back into a reasonable pace and passed the wildcards again but I knew there was no way I could get into the points. I backed off for the final
three laps as I was getting lapped and didn't want to be in anyone's way as the fight for the championship is so close. I finished the race in 20th position and once again very disappointed. After the race, I spoke to my mechanics & we looked at the data. The
bike was running way too rich and this was why the engine felt so sluggish. It seems like as soon as I get the chassis feeling really good we have a problem with the engine!

Anyway that is it for a while in Europe. I am now looking forward to Brazil and hopefully I can have a more successful weekend than this one.

Chaz #57

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