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Chaz Checks In...Sepang

As soon as we finished the race in Motegi we all helped to pack up the crates then left for a hotel nearer to Tokyo airport. We arrived in Kualalumpa Monday afternoon and I had forgotten how humid Malaysia is. Once you step outside the airport doors it is unbelievable, it was also very hot. We arrived at our hotel which turned out to be about 20 minutes from the Sepang circuit.

On Tuesday dad and I met up with Casey and his dad Colin and went into "China Town". Malaysia is well known to have cheap electrical stuff and also really cheap CD's and DVD's, but you have to haggle with the sellers. Last year there were loads of people on the street selling CD's and DVD's but the police in Malaysia are trying to stop it so now there are people stood everywhere who call out to you asking if you want any. Me and Casey said to the one guy we did so they then take you through an alley and up to a room where there was hundreds of different stuff. DVD players, mini discs, millions of CD's and DVD's. It is all a bit dodgy but that's the way it is. I brought about 20 DVD's for around £15. You do run the risk of them being not such good quality but as there so cheap it's worth risking! As it turned out, when I played them during the week on my computer only 5 were 'wobbly' and not very good!

On Thursday I had been asked by Dorna to attend a pre-event publicity Go-kart race. From the 250's there was me and Sebastian Porto, only one 125cc rider, Steve Jenkner and the rest were MotoGP riders, Colin Edwards, Max Biaggi, Nicky Hayden, Troy Bayliss and Nori Haga. My kart has got to be the worst kart I have ever driven. Only a couple of karts seemed much good out of all of them. Colin Edwards was not impressed at all. He was very funny using very strong language about his "crap" kart! It seemed that Max and Porto had got about the best karts and a rumour was circulating that they had been down to the track earlier in the day and picked out their kart already! After qualifying, Porto was quickest and we set off for a 12 lap race. My kart was under-steering everywhere but as we were all racers we all wanted to reach the flag 1st. Max and Porto were having a right scrap for 1st and 2nd and I tried to get third off Bayliss but he blocked me really well. In the end that's how it finished with Max winning and me forth. It was really good fun and Colin was still swearing!

On Friday morning I woke up to rain but it did stop at about 8.30am. As Malaysia is so humid it can sometimes takes ages for the rain to dry and when we went out on track for our first practice the track conditions were not ideal with damp patches everywhere. I ended the session in 13th position but it was a bit deceptive as no-one could really put in a great lap because of the track conditions and lack of grip in the wet areas. Sepang is not a very grippy circuit at the best of times anyway. In the afternoons first qualifying the track was completely dry but all session I didn't have a good feeling with the bike. The front end was "chattering" and the rear end sliding. The front was the worst as it kept trying to turn in on the slow corners and I didn't feel comfortable trying to push it onto the line I wanted to use. I finished the session in 15th position and a time of 2.12.024 but I had a lot of problems to try and sort out. The front tyre I was using was not the one I had used at Motegi so I asked my chief mechanic if we could try that for the morning and we had a problem with the gearbox. 2nd gear was the main problem generally but all the changes we had available to us in the gearbox ratios were going to make problems in other parts of the track. After qualifying I spent a good couple of hours talking to my mechanics and Klaus, my telemetry man, to see if we could improve the bike for the next day.

For the second free practice I had in the front tyre that I had used at Motegi but really it wasn't that much better! We had improved the gearbox though which really helped and other changes my mechanics had made had helped the rear sliding a bit.I tried to follow a couple of faster riders through the parts on the track where I knew I was losing time. Toni Elias had really got the track sorted being nearly a second quicker than anyone else all weekend and I was lucky enough to get behind him in a couple of places I needed to improve on. Although Toni would pull quite a bit on me, bike for bike, I could still see what lines he used and it definitely helped me improve my lap. I could do low 2.11 laps consistently and after a rear tyre change and with about 12minutes to go I put in a 2.10.99 which was over a second faster than what I had done the day before and put me into 6th place at the time. By the end of the session I had been bumped down to 12th position but although I was still getting some chattering on the front and quite a bit of sliding on the rear, I still thought in the afternoon I could probably go about half a second quicker which I hoped would put me on the third row again. However this was not to be!

I had a disastrous 2nd qualifying. After running-in some pistons I did two quicker laps but for some reason the bike was not behaving how it had been in the morning. I came in and spoke to my mechanics and my chief mechanic told me that after the morning session he had altered the swinging arm quite a bit to try and help the handling. Unfortunately it had made it worse so they put it back to how it had been in the morning. This took about 15 minutes and as we only have 45 minutes to qualify in time was going on. When I went back out of the pits after the changes I did a full lap but as I was coming round to complete the lap I could smell fuel. I stopped on the side of the track and noticed my fuel pipe had not been put back on in the rush. I had to go back into the pits in case fuel had got on the back tyre and after a quick wipe I went out to try and get a time. I had very little time left and knew if I wanted to get a time close to the mornings I would need to get going quickly. This didn't happen. The more I tried the more mistakes I made. I knew I was capable of a good time but I knew the session was about to finish and I hadn't even bettered my best time from Friday. On the last lap I managed to match Fridays time which of course was not anywhere near good enough and I was going to start the race from 20th position. Not where I wanted to be at all. After the session I again talked to my mechanics and decided on a setting and tyres for the race. I was not very confident in either as I had practically lost a whole session but we had to make a decision and I would try it in the mornings warm-up and hope that it would work.

The next morning another problem! It was pouring down and everyone thought it was going to stay like that all day but just before my warm-up the rain stopped. The track was still very wet for warm-up and although I couldn't test the race set-up as I wanted to (and needed to), the wet session did give me a chance to have some time on the 250cc in wet conditions. The last time (and my first time all year) I rode the bike in the wet, was in the race at Assen which was a disaster through one thing and another so it was good to have some time in the wet. I actually felt quite comfortable and ended warm-up in 14th position and with lots more confidence for the wet. I had over two hours before my race and it was looking like it would be dry race. I was a bit nervous as I didn't really have a set-up I was confident with but my plan was to try and get a good start, pass as many as I could on the first lap and then try and do consistent lap times and see what happens.

I did make a really good start and by the end of the first lap I had passed 6 riders and was in 14th position. I was in a group of five riders in 12th to 16th place. My team mate Dirk was leading the pack then Baldolini, Me, Marchand and finally Olive and we were all in the same second. As I hadn't tested a full tank of fuel in the dry (I normally do this in the warm-up) and my settings weren't great, I was struggling with the heaviness of the bike for the first 12 laps making it difficult to lean on the front until about two-thirds into the race. I got into a fight for a few laps with Marchand and Olive swapping places with me but once my bike got lighter I passed both of them and started to pull away. For the last eight laps my bike felt better but not great. Because us three riders had been tripping each other up it had allowed Baldolini and Dirk to get away and they were now four and a half seconds in front of me. I got my head down and did very consistent laps and got the gap down to 1.9 before the flag. I think three more laps and I could of had them both but the flag was out and I was 12th. I was disappointed even though I had done the best I could but I know without the chaos of the 2nd qualifying the top ten was again a possibility.

So now I fly this afternoon to Australia. I am stopping off for a couple of days with the team in Cairns. It is my team boss's birthday and a friend of his is doing a small party and we may have the chance to go snorkelling off one of the reefs. I am looking forward to Phillip Island because I really like the track even though the weather is usually very very cold. Once again I shall try for a top 10 and I also need to get some more points as my helmet suppliers will give me a bonus if I finish in the top 12 in the championship. I have 9 points to make up on Spanish rider and 12th place holder Joan Olive as it is at the moment. It is going to be very difficult as the last race is at his home track in Valencia but I am certainly going to try.

Chaz #57

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