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Chaz Checks in... Philip Island

After the Malaysian GP we stayed overnight for one more night in Malaysia and then on Monday afternoon left to fly to Australia. We first flew from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and then from Singapore got a connection flight from there to Melbourne. It's actually quite handy being around my Dad when he's getting around on his crutches in the airports because you get loads of special treatment. Like normally, we'd be a good 15-20 minutes getting through passport control, but as soon as they saw my dad on crutches we were ushered to the front of the queue and sent through straight away. And you get the guys driving along in the golf style carts and pick you up and take you to where you want. It's pretty tempting to keep the crutches and fake a few injuries in the future because it makes life that much easier! We arrived in Melbourne airport late Monday night and then stayed there for 1 night before going down to Phillip Island the day after. On Tuesday we hung around Melbourne until early afternoon then went down South East to Phillip Island about 2 hours away. After being in hot countries like Qatar and Malaysia for the last two weeks we were looking forward to getting in some cool weather but that wasn't really the case. Normally Australia is pretty cold at this time of year (as it is there spring time) but typically Melbourne was having one of its hottest October days for 40 years and Sydney had its hottest October day recorded since the 1870's!

We arrived in Phillip Island early Tuesday evening and the weather was also good down there, probably the nicest I've seen it in the three years I've been there. On Wednesday we didn't really do a lot, just caught up on some sleep and then in the afternoon went for a walk around the town of Cowes (the closest town to the circuit). The weather was now starting to get more like Phillip Island and coming colder by the hour. On Thursday Stiggy and my dad went to the circuit in the hire car and I hired a mountain bike and rode to the circuit and explored a bit which was quite good fun. At the circuit I did my normal pre-weekend routines and got things organised. That evening we had dinner with my team manager Dieter Stappert as it was his birthday.

On Friday morning the 125cc Free Practice was wet but as the circuit is right next to the sea the wind is always very strong and was completely dry for our session. For the first half of the session I was really struggling with the chassis. Every time I got hard on the gas the front would come light and the bike was very unstable. I had no control over where I wanted to put the bike and it was sending itself into tank-slappers on the exits of most of the corners. After a few small suspension changes the bike was coming more stable but for sure the strong wind was causing most of the problem. For the afternoon the wind had eased up a bit but we went further with the chassis set-up to make it a bit more stable and it was improving but more chattering was coming. The aim was to try and find the balance between getting the bike stable and having as little chattering as possible and most changes that we made were making one thing better but another worse. At the end of the session I was pretty happy with the chassis as it was getting better and better and the engine was pretty good even though I had a small gear change problem. I finished the session in 13th.

On Saturday morning the changes we made overnight had again improved the bike and the chassis was starting to feel really good. I did a lot of laps at the end of the session which were very consistent and also had a lot of blue helmets up on a number of different laps but didn't piece them all together in one lap so I knew I could get things pretty good for the afternoon. I was 12th in the morning and 0.3 faster than I had been the day before.

For the first part of the final qualifying session on Saturday afternoon we more or less had completely ironed out every problem The chassis was feeling the best it had been in a long time. Its good when a bike feels like that because it feels like you can do what you want on it and it doesn't feel like anywhere near the limit. It was turning well, holding the line well, stable on the brakes and stable when hard on the gas and I had a tiny bit of chattering but nothing to serious. Within 5 laps of the session I had gone faster than I had gone all weekend on a 1.35.7 on an old rear tyre from the morning session. I went out with fresh rubber on the rear and on my 4th lap did a 1.35.1 and then two laps later a 1.35.0 and was up to 9th. For the last push I stopped in the box in the last 10 minutes and got another new tyre on the rear. On my second lap I did another 1.35.0 and the lap didn't really feel anything special. On my last two laps I did a 1.35.8 being stuck behind a wild-card and then on my last lap did a 1.35.2. I felt like I could do 1.35's lap in lap out which was good for the race. I got bumped back to 10th at the very end of the session but it was still my best qualifying so far in GP's and the best thing was, I knew my set-up was pretty good for the race. The team were very happy because Stiggy was also going well and was 12th on the grid, so both of us were on the third row which was a first for this year. I still had a problem with my gear change but my engine was again strong and had a good controllable feel.

For Sunday I wanted to keep the bike exactly the same. Its not very often when I can say that I'm completely happy with the chassis set-up but something seemed to be working so I decided not to change anything. The weather was on our side unlike last year when it was almost torrential rain. Phillip Island is one of the nicest circuits to ride when the sun's out because for one all you can see around you is the sea and secondly it's quite a different circuit to any other and really enjoyable to ride. For Warm Up, as usual, I ran in pistons for the first 4 laps and also had to run with a full tank of fuel to check it wouldn't completely throw the chassis settings out for the race. I noticed the full tank was actually making quite a difference to the front end of the bike as it can do on some circuits. I had more chattering and also braking down the steep hill into MG corner with the extra weight of the fuel the front suspension now felt like it was hitting rock bottom and it was then pushing me wide. I stopped in the pits and we stiffened up the front suspension a bit but the chattering came worse. As I came down the steep hill into MG I had a glance at the big screen trackside TV and I thought it said there was 5 minutes of the session left and thought I had plenty of time to make a change and would be able to get 2 more laps in. I soon realised that I had cocked up because when I stopped in the box I looked at the TV and it said 14 seconds! After the session my chassis mechanic and I discussed where we should go with the set-up and decided to take it back to how it was the day before as I knew it was somewhere near even if I did have a small bit of chattering.

Before the race I did what I did in Malaysia and pictured exactly what I needed to do in the first few laps, providing I get away well the plan was don't get stuck and queue up behind anyone. If there's a gap go for it'.and it worked. It makes it so much easier when the first few laps go to plan as I had found out in Malaysia. My start wasn't particularly good. I went from 10th to 13th off the line because, I later found out that because I pulled in too early in warm up and didn't do a practice start, the clutch was too new and hadn't been given a chance to free up. I was just behind my team mate on the run through the quick left and then into Honda Hairpin and I put it up the inside of him to go 11th. Then I was right behind Roby Rolfo on the way into the next left and he sat up very early so I went for the outside line and went the long way round, around the outside of him (which I have to say felt good)! Next in line was Nieto and I almost passed him through the fast Hayshed corner before Lukey Heights and in a way it was a good job I didn't. On braking down the hill into the next corner I was right behind him and all of a sudden he shot to the inside, jumped across the kerb and wiped out Debon with him. That just broke the gap to the group in front of me with to 1.5 seconds to Aoyama off the back of it.

At the start of the 2nd lap Rolfo and De Puniet passed me down the start finish straight. Through the fast left before Honda Hairpin I almost hit Rolfo as he came off the gas much earlier than I expected, I had to suddenly pick up the bike but didn't lose anything, De Puniet then went wide at Honda and Rolfo and I got back up the inside of him. Two corners later I passed Rolfo into the Hayshed and was up to 7th and then at the end of that lap De Puniet came back passed down the start/finish straight so I went back to 8th.

On lap 3 De Puniet just started to edge away but I was catching Aoyama and pulling away from Rolfo. The front end definitely wasn't quite as good with the full tank as I was getting more chattering than I had in the qualifying but it still wasn't too bad. On the 4th lap I did a 1.35.3 and caught half a second on Aoyama.

On lap 5 De Puniet lost the front just in front of me on the way into Honda. On that lap I also caught another ½ second on Aoyama and pulled Toni Elias in 0.2 who was 2.1 seconds ahead. On lap 6 I passed Aoyama to get 6th place into Honda Hairpin and caught another 2 tenths on Toni. For the next 4 laps I was reeling Toni in about 2-3 tenths per lap and got to within 1 second of him.

On lap 12 I really noticed a change in my rear tyre. The grip still seemed good but it seemed like the side walls of the tyre had gone a bit softer with heat and I was getting a very pogo like feedback every time I got on the gas. Toni started to edge away at about 3-5 tenths per lap and I was pulling about 5-7 tenths per lap over Aoyama and Rolfo. I tried to keep on terms with Toni but for sure he would have been on factory tyres which are designed to cope with the problems like I was having but I can't get these tyres!

For the remainder of the race I was quite lonely. I realised that I definitely couldn't stay with Toni when we got to about lap 15 but the gap behind me was still shooting up. On lap 20 the gap to Aoyama behind was 8 seconds so I eased off a little bit for the last few laps just to make sure I would get back safe. The last few laps seemed like forever and it was good to cross the line and see the flag.

When I got back to the box the team were extremely happy and I hadn't long had my helmet off when I was talking to a newspaper reporter and the boss of Dorna, Carmelo Ezpelata came up to me and said congratulations and shook my hand which was a complete surprise. Its good to see somebody as well respected as him in the paddock recognise the result and take the time to come to my box and congratulate me as something like that happens very rarely. Also the boss of Aprilia, Jan Witteveen came and shook my hand. It was a good feeling to be in amongst and passing riders like Rolfo and Aoyama and also on terms Toni Elias who has won plenty of GP's in the past, rides for a factory team, on a factory bike, gets factory tyres and not to mention gets paid 1.5 million Euro to ride a bike which is exactly 1.5 million more than what I am paid!!

It would be nice to see another top ten in Valencia to finish off the season. I've had pretty mixed results there in the past but I am quite confident I can get a decent result there and finish off the season on a high.




© 2006

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