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Chaz Checks In... Qatar

Image of some Welsh fans in Doha!After the Japanese GP I was only at home for about a week before we had to leave for the next GP in Qatar. In that week I rested my foot for the first few days and then when I started to get about on it a bit I found that the small crack in the heel wasn't really a big problem, it was more the tendons and ligaments around the ankle area. I could put quite a lot of downwards pressure on my foot but I had to be careful not to twist my ankle because that's where the pain was. Later in the week I did a few hours each day on my mountain bike which was good. I explored a few more different routes around my home and got lost once but soon found a sign re-directing me back to my local town!

On Monday evening me and my dad flew straight from London Heathrow to Dubai. My dad's broken leg was not feeling so bad so he decided to come on the fly aways but had been warned by doctors to be careful where they've operated not to get an infection. The flight took about 6 hours and then we met up with the team in Dubai airport and got a connection flight from there to Doha, the closest airport to where the circuit is. That flight was about 1 hour. After we collected our bags and sorted out hire cars etc it was time to face the music and get outside in the heat and see if it was as hot as everyone was saying it would be. As soon as I got out of the air-conditioning and through the doors outside the airport I felt I needed to be in shorts. The heat just hits you and everybody in the team was sweating just standing still. For the rest of the day we got sorted out at our hotel and caught up on a bit of sleep.

On Wednesday we went to the circuit which was only about 30 minutes from our hotel. We were staying in Doha town and as you drive out of the town and towards the circuit you drive on what seems like a road put through a desert, where ever you look you can see miles of nothing. At the circuit the teams barometer was reading 41.5'c! That afternoon there was a shuttle car arranged for each team so the teams could have a look around the circuit. Each team had a chauffeur and we had 3 laps around the circuit. I think everybody was pretty impressed with the circuit and the gravel traps were huge which is good. The circuit looked good, it had quite a bit of variety in it, with fairly slow-medium speed corners for the first half of the lap and 3 quite quick corners before the final hairpin. The only thing that everyone was a bit unsure of was how dirty the circuit was, because of all the sand that's blown over from the desert. I didn't really have a lot to do on Friday because there was no previous data that I could look at & we had been given a gear-box setting that Aprilia thought should be fairly close to start off with and then we could fine tune it if we think it needs changing. By about 1-2 o'clock in the afternoon I was finding that the heat was feeling a bit more bearable because the wind would pick up a bit so our qualifying should be slightly cooler than our Free Practice in the morning.

My first day on track at Qatar was a bit of a nightmare. In the morning session I was just getting a feel for the track and sussing out lines and braking markers etc. I could see from watching the 125cc session in the morning that the grip at this point in the weekend was very minimal. They were riding there bikes like it was wet, making sure they were more or less upright on the corner exits and not really slamming the bike on its side like the 125's normally do. I had quite a few front end tucks in my session and because of this had no feeling with the front and no confidence to push it. But my main thing to focus on for the first session was to get to grips with the circuit as best as possible. During my first session my dad spotted 2 people in the start/finish straight grandstand and they were both dressed in a Welsh t-shirts & waving like mad. They were pretty much, the only people in that grandstand at the time as you can see from the picture, so thank you for your support.

The gear box setting that Aprilia gave us wasn't too far away, just the 2nd gear was a little bit tall for a few of the corners. The afternoon session wasn't much better than the morning, I went a fair bit quicker due to the circuit cleaning up a bit more and me knowing the circuit but I still had no feeling with the front and couldn't feel what the front tyre was going to do. I was still having quite a few front end tucks which had quite a bit to do with the dirt on the circuit but knew there had to be a way of improving it because other riders were managing to find the grip.

On the way to the circuit Friday morning we passed about 25 wild camels that we could see in the distance of the desert which was good to see. In the morning session the bike felt slightly better from the change we made overnight but I was still way off where I wanted to be. I ran in pistons for the first 4 laps and started using a harder front tyre which helped the feeling to the front of the bike. It was strange because normally a rear tyre, on pretty much every circuit that we go to, will tear up and go off long before a front tyre would, but here it was working the complete opposite way. After 5 laps the front tyre would develop a tear all the way around it and the rear was looking like new. And also at any other circuit the rear would start to slide long before the front tyre would start to tuck and that was also working the opposite way to normal. Very weird! At the very end of the morning session we made another change to the front so it would work a bit deeper and give me more feel which seemed to work. I didn't think I'd done a very good lap because the front end was now feeling better but it was my fastest lap of the session so things were brightening up for the last qualifying.

On Friday afternoon we went further with the change made on the front and every time I went out the bike was feeling a bit more positive and I was starting to feel what the front tyre was doing which gave me more confidence to push the front. Within 4 laps I went over 3/4 of a second faster than I had done in the morning session on a 2.07.5 and that felt quite easy. We tried a few different things at the mid-way point in the session, some which were working for the better and some for the worse. For the last 10 minutes we put in a new front and rear tyre and I did a 2.06.5 which put me up into 9th at the time but at the end of the session I got bumped back down too 13th. I was happy with the session as we made quite a lot of progress in the chassis but I felt that the engine could have also been a bit stronger, so that was something we would work on that evening.

On the bikes we were running with the front mud guard off just to try and keep the bikes as cool as possible and get as much air flow through the radiator as possible. My bike was running at about 67-70'c whereas it normally runs optimally at 55-60'c! When riding the bike it still felt just as hot as standing around in the sun because the air is also hot when your gushing into it at 170mph. At the very start of the weekend every time I sat up on the brakes for the 1st corner my eyes would start to stream with water like somebody was blowing a hair-dryer on my face!

For race day I was feeling quite confidant that I had a pretty good set-up and that I could do a good wrong I was. Warm-up went like normal, for the first 4 laps running in and then trying the bike on a full tank of fuel to get a feeling for the race. I didn't push too hard because in the back of my mind I was thinking about my warm up crash from Motegi and I didn't want that to happen again. With the full tank the bike was running wide slightly because of the extra weight pushing the front out so we stiffened up the front a bit and it helped but it didn't feel as good as it did the day before but we had to go with it for the race.

My start in the race was terrible. Everything felt ok, I was on the edge of bogging the bike and but just feathering it which is normally perfect but I just wasn't going forward and people were coming past me like I was standing still. I was playing with the clutch but nothing I was doing was working. A bad start was the last thing I needed especially on this circuit, because so many of the corners are one line entry's because of the dirtiness either side of the racing line. To pass somebody, there was only a few good points like the 1st and last corner and the 2 hairpins in the centre of the track. After the first lap I had gone from 13th on the grid to 24th and almost last. In the opening 10 laps I was stuck in a group where I really shouldn't have been but found it very difficult to pass and make my way through to the front of the group. At one point I got to the front of the group but then the next lap made a mistake trying too hard to get a gap and went slightly deep into the 1st corner and 2 people passed me so I had the work to do again. Also at this circuit its a big risk to keep the bike on its side if you run off line because of the dirt. Even Rossi in qualifying ran off 6 or 7 times because of this reason. In the last laps I was dicing with David De Gea and he pipped me to 15th and I finished 16th, more than disappointed and far from where I should be, but again paid the price for a bad start. In Malaysia I'm really going to study the telemetry hard and find out what's going on with these starts. We're going to try and play around with the clutch to try and make it not so sensitive because I know I can get good starts but this year I haven't had many at all. The last three races haven't gone to plan at all and I need to get a good result next weekend in Malaysia.






© 2006

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