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Chaz Checks In...Motegi

After the Rio GP I flew home for a few days. Last year I went and stayed at Casey (Stoners) house in Australia and although it was really good fun & pretty good weather it did mean that I was away for nearly seven weeks and that was a bit too long. Also my dad didn't want to be away that long again either because of our karting track at home etc. so we decided to have a few days at home before we started the long haul,
back to back Grand Prixs' to Japan, Malaysia & Australia. While I was at home I didn't manage to fit in a drumming lesson unfortunately but I did start an evening woodwork course with one of my best mates John. First impressions were pretty good. The guy running the course was pretty relaxed and you can make what you want within reason & he gives you a hand. Me & John are probably going to "attempt" to make some drum sticks, although while I am away for the next four weeks I think John will have nearly finished his! I also went to Donington Park for the last round of the British Superbike Championship. I had a good day there catching up with old friends etc.

The following Monday, mum drove dad & me down to the Travel Lodge near Heathrow. We had an early-ish flight and thought the best thing was to stay the night before. We flew to Munich first where we met up with the rest of the team then onto Tokyo. As always the flight was very boring & I tried to sleep as much as I could. We arrived in Tokyo at 10 a.m. their time and after hiring a car we drove the 100k to our hotel which was about 20 minutes from the circuit. In Japan the rooms & beds are absolutely tiny & as me & dad are both around 6ft tall our feet always stick out the bottom of the bed. We tried to stay awake by going and having a look around the local town then we went and got something to eat. I am very nervous now about eating in Japan after my food poisoning earlier this year in Suzuka. I had never been so sick & I don't want to be that sick again! We eventually went to bed about 9pm & I slept quite well. The next day we headed off to the circuit. The mechanics were assembling everything out of the crates and in the afternoon my team mate Dirk, Casey & I jogged the track. I remembered the Motegi circuit quite well from last year as it is a track that I really like. It's very different to a lot of the other circuits we go to as it has a straight then a hairpin, straight then a hairpin & just keeps going like that. I like this type of track as it is exciting and gives me the opportunity to make up time on the brakes in the hairpins on other riders. On Thursday night at the Motegi circuit hotel, which is part of the circuit complex, there was a traditional Japanese welcome for all the riders & their teams. There were loads of Japanese girls dressed up in costumes & a huge buffet which had just about every nationality of food displayed on it.

During the first practice session, I straight away knew that I wasn't going to get as many problems with the chassis as I have had in the past at other tracks. The Motegi circuit doesn't really create too many chassis problems, so I spent this first session learning how to ride the track on a 250cc motorcycle and testing tyres. I finished the morning session in 18th position. In the afternoon we changed a few settings to give me more feeling on the front end. After about 10 minutes I still wasn't happy with the front end so I changed the front tyre to a part used harder one & also put in a harder rear to try. I didn't like the harder rear so much so I came back in and put in a part worn softer tyre. This worked better & I had arranged with my mechanics that if this rear tyre compound worked, I would stay out on track until about 12 minutes to go then come in for a 'new' rear tyre. With about 11 minutes to go I saw on my board 'IN' but I missed my braking point to enter the short-cut into the pits & had to do another lap. Because of my mistake there was no time to put in the new rear so I just had some fuel and went! I knew the rear tyre had only done 9 laps so I wasn't too bothered. I crossed the line with 3 minutes left of the session and I was in 16th place at that time. I had got good drive coming onto the start finish and I really went for it. In the third section I made a small mistake which sent me up onto the kerb but even so I finished the lap & moved myself up to 14th position. I was a bit annoyed with my stupid mistake as I think the 3rd row was a possibility but I did manage to get the 'Senna t-shirt'! My team boss Dieter used to work with Ayrton Senna in F1 and he has told me many times that Senna is the only driver/rider that he has ever known to time & again produce the perfect lap when it mattered. A perfect lap is when you set your best time in every one of the four timing sectors around a circuit. This may not sound too difficult but believe me it is! Anyway I did the 'perfect lap' for me & am now owed a Senna t-shirt from my boss.

On Saturday morning I started the session on used tyres again and spent about half the session trying a couple of different set-ups to get more feel from the front end. After about 20 minutes of the one hour session I had equalled my time from the previous afternoon and I was in 12th position. My rear tyre at that time had done about 24 laps so I came in for a new one. on my first flying lap I knew I was up on my best time but I got baulked by the Dutch rider Lagermaat. On the next lap I again knew I was up and as I crossed the line I could see on my on-board lap timer that I had managed to break into the late 1.54's. I was pretty surprised as I felt really comfortable and when I passed my pit board on the next lap this time had put me into 6th position. At the end of the session I had been bumped back to 8th, but I was really pleased because I felt totally relaxed &comfortable &my bike was behaving the best it had ever done! I also knew that the 'Wild card' riders knew the Motegi circuit like the back of their hand. Four out of the five 'wild-cards' were also on the new 2004 Honda which is very quick, so I was very happy to get 8th. For the afternoons session I thought if I could do a low 1.54 it would probably put me on the second row. At the start of the final qualifying, with the track temperature a little higher, I tried a different compound front tyre but I came back in quite quickly and changed back to the one I had used in the morning..For most of the session I was jumping between 12th & 14th position and I couldn't quite get a good a lap in as I wanted to. Either I was making mistakes or another rider would hold me up. With about 8 minutes to go I put in a good lap 3 tenths faster than in the morning and this put me in 11th position. On the very last lap Robbie Rolfo pipped me by 1 tenth and I was pushed back to 12th position, but at least I had put myself on the third row next to a guy who had already won a GP this year. I was also in front of Fonsi Nieto & Anthony West who have both won GP's this year too! I was a little disappointed not to have achieved a low 1.54 as I was on another good lap afterwards and closing in on Fonsi Nieto but one of the 'wild-cards' Tokudome moved over pushing Fonsi into my path. Anyway row 3 it was which is my best qualifying so far.

My initial start in the race was again really good, like in Rio, but into the first corner Takahashi went steaming up the inside and hit somebody who hit somebody else. It was chaos & all I could do was brake & try and avoid hitting anybody myself. By the end of the first lap I was in 16th position & not happy. I started to try & do consistent lap times. Before the race I thought I could do consistent mid 1.55's but I could only produce one 1.55 lap all race &the rest in the 1.56's. For some reason I had problems controlling the rear. it just wanted to slide everywhere. I eventually caught & passed German Honda rider Gemmel and tried to push to catch Debon and a 'wild card' rider who were about three seconds ahead of me. On one lap I had three huge slides throwing me up out of the seat and the distance in front of me seemed to be remaining the same whatever I tried to do. I decided as Gemmel was at least 3 seconds behind me to try & concentrate on a good rhythm &finish the race. A couple of riders in front ended up crashing so I finished the race in 11th position. Normally this would of been a good result but I was very disappointed that I had had the problems with the rear after having such a good feeling all weekend. Lots of people including Kenny Roberts Snr. congratulated me on my qualifying & race. They reminded me that there were three works Honda 'wild-card' riders who had finished in front of me & if you discounted them & looked at it from the normal line-up of riders I would of finished 8th. It didn't make me feel much better though!

Tonight we leave for Malaysia where hopefully there will be no Honda works 'wild-card' riders & I can try again for a top 10 finish.

ps. Those of you who watched the eurosport coverage last weekend will of heard that I have another phone-in competition up & running. You can win a weekend trip to the last Grand Prix in Valencia. Prize includes 2 paddock tickets, flights, hotel etc.
There are also signed t-shirts & knee sliders for some of the runners up. All you have to do is telephone 0906 4030 713 and answer 3 simple questions. All proceeds are going to me & my team to help fund my racing.

Good Luck!

Chaz #57

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