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Chaz Checks In...Valencia

At the end of the four long fly-away races it was nice to go back home for a short week before the final GP in Valencia. This season has gone so fast for me & It is hard to believe we are already at the last race.

We flew directly to Valencia on Wednesday & for one of the few times this year we had a completely trouble free flight! it was quite late before we got the circuit so it was straight to bed for me.

On Thursday I took part in a 'riders for health' scooter race which we won & then I did a couple of laps of the track on the scooter to re-familiarize myself with the Valencia circuit. Valencia is probably one of the circuits on the GP calendar that I have done the most laps around because of my time in the Spanish championship, but believe me, that doesn't make it much easier. Valencia is a strange circuit because it is so hard to break boundaries. Going just 2 tenths faster seems impossible at times but the more laps you can do on the trot it becomes more flowing and then the times start to come. On Thursday afternoon I had to clean up my leathers from the mud bath I had in Philip Island. I didn't have time after the race to give them a serious clean so I thought I would leave the mud to dry for a couple of weeks then give them a good brush.

On Friday morning, we woke to rain. The forecast for the weekend was wet Friday but dry Saturday & Sunday. I watched the 125cc & MotoGP classes in their mornings free practice sessions to try & get some idea where most riders were crashing. On the TV in the pit box the circuit looked really slippery & many riders were crashing especially in the MotoGP session. They seemed to be crashing very quickly & easily. I thought about staying in the pit box for about 20minutes to see how other riders in the 250cc class coped with the slippery conditions but in the end I decided to go out and see how the track was & run in new pistons. As I was running the bike in I started very slowly. I spent quite a bit of time looking at other riders to see how much grip they were getting & worked out for myself which parts of the circuit were dodgy. The chassis felt good apart from a little bit of nervousness on the rear but my engine was lacking acceleration. With about 10 minutes left of the session I was in 12th position & for the last three laps I got behind Robbie Rolfo and got a good tow. On my next lap I went to 9th then 8th & finished the session in 7th position.

I was pretty pleased with my rain set-up but by the start of first qualifying the sun had come out & the track was completely dry due to very strong winds. The wind was gusting at about 25mph & it felt more like Philip island than Valencia. You had to be very careful in the 1st & 3rd corner as it was very easy to be blown off line. After about 35 minutes of the session my bike suddenly started misfiring and wouldn't rev over 12,300 rpm whereas normally it should go to 13,500 rpm quite easily. I returned to the garage where the mechanics discovered a broken spark plug. The spark plug had chipped & bits were everywhere. I had no time to go back after this so ended the session in 17th position. I spoke to my mechanics about the session & even though I had had the spark plug break I told them that the engine in the first 30 minutes was not very strong at all anyway. At Valencia four of the corners hang on for quite some time & it is very important that you hit the apex on these corners to make a good lap. I was having to wrestle the bike to get it to hit the apex so my mechanics agreed to make changes for Saturday.

Overnight my mechanics had altered the front suspension to see if it would hold the line better & hit the apex of the corners easier. As soon as I went out on track & got up to a decent speed I noticed there was a real improvement so I came in and the mechanics adjusted the suspension a bit more which again improved the overall handling. Throughout 2nd free practice I was testing tyres. The medium tyre gripped from the start, which I liked, but the grip would only last for about 7 laps maximum before it would start to slide. I tried a hard tyre which was sliding from the start but once you had done a couple of laps the grip would start to come & stay more constant. Throughout the session though whatever tyre I tried after about 7 laps I would come in & there would be a big black tear mark all the way around the left side which was about 2" wide! This was because of the long left corner before the final corner. I finished the session in 13th place. I had found another second compared to the previous day but still had plenty of problems. The engine was still not strong, I was at least 8kph down in the speed traps on my team mate even though I was much faster than him out of the final corner leading onto the straight & on the sections of the track when I needed to be in 3rd gear, the bike felt very lazy so this needed to be altered before the afternoons final qualifying session. I also still had a problem with tyre choice as the race was 27 laps & so far 7 laps was all I could get out of any tyre. I sat down with my telemetry man Klaus & looked at what the rear suspension was doing. On the telemetry you could see that the suspension was not working as well as it should have been & therefore was making the rear tyre do most of the work. We decided to soften the rear suspension & see if this would make the tyre last long enough to do the race.

For second qualifying I thought it was possible to do about a 1.38.40 & this I hoped would get me on the third row of the grid. I quickly got down into the mid 1.39's and could do around this time quite consistently. I came in to the pits with about fifteen minutes to go to put some fresh tyres in. The tyre I had been out on had done around 20 laps & now did not have the big tear, so the softening of the suspension was working & it looked like we had found a tyre to use for the race. I went back out with 10 minutes to go & fresh rubber & I was on a really good lap when Dutch rider Henk Vd Lagemaat looked behind, saw me coming quickly & pulled right into my path. I was not happy at all! By the time the chequered flag came out I had done a 1.38.70 which put me 15th on the grid. Even though it was possible for a faster lap had I not been baulked, the engine was still not strong at all. I was again at least 8kph down on Dirk still & I hoped my mechanics could find the problem before the race.

During morning warm-up I ran in new pistons & as always, went out with a full tank of fuel to see how the bike would behave. We also tried a harder front fork spring to compensate for the extra weight of the fuel & it felt fine.

My start was again pretty good & I made up a couple of places off the line but then I got a bit too involved with Sylvain Guintoli at the 3rd corner & lost some ground on the riders in front. On lap 5, I was in 13th position & catching 12th but my engine still didn't feel very strong at all. I pushed really hard and got right up behind Bataille in 12th position. I knew my engine was not strong enough to slipstream him so I decided to try and pass him in a corner & keep tight lines so he couldn't pass me back hopefully. As I followed Bataille into the 2nd gear hairpin he went wide & I stuck my bike underneath him, squared it off, stood it up and gassed it but the engine completely died! I coasted around the next corner pulling in the clutch & going through the gears to try & rev the bike but nothing was happening. Then all of a sudden the engine came back to normal and I was back chasing after Bataille again but now I was a good 4 seconds behind him & my team mate in 14th position was right behind me! By lap 10 I was starting to catch Bataille bit by bit but then the bike started to behave like it had on Friday, not revving past 12,000rpm. My bike was now 20kph down on speed & I could do nothing but wave my team mate by. Now & again the bike would decide to rev in certain gears but I was losing about 2 seconds a lap on my earlier lap times. I thought I was going to be caught & end up out of the points in no time but luckily for me the riders behind me were not doing very quick lap times. Near the end of the race West had to pull out so I finished in 13th position. The annoying thing was that Bataille had caught & passed the group in front of him & had finished in 9th position, so if I hadn't had the engine problems 8th place was very possible.

The mechanics stripped the engine after the race & again the sparkplug had chipped. The mechanics also found water in the exhaust caused by a leaking gasket between the crank & cylinder. I had been very unlucky to have two broken sparkplugs but what was even worse was the fact that Spanish riders, Olive & Fauble, who I was trying to catch in the overall championship had both pulled in on lap 1 & if I could of finished the race, inside the top 10 & therefore 12th overall in the World championship it would of given me a 10,000 euro bonus to help with my expenses off Nolan helmets! Anyway 14th in the World Championship standings it was which I am pretty pleased with.
I have really enjoyed this year especially the 2nd half of the season. If I can raise the budget, I hope to stay with Aprilia Germany next year & my aim is to get as close to those factory bikes as possible! I can't wait for the 2004 season to start.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year & to all of you who rang the telephone competition lines. Also thanks to Michele for all her work on this website & finally a big thank you to my sponsor KF Concept.

See you all next year,

Chaz #57

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