Ichiro Yoda has worked with Yamaha ever since he graduated from Tokyo's Metropolitan University in the late seventies.
The 48-year-old gained his love for bikes from riding on the street and his first Yamaha project was working on a four-stroke single for the Middle East market. But it wasn't long before Yoda got into racing, and his first competition projects were a four-stroke 500 GP bike and a 1000cc V4 endurance racer, which were tested in the early eighties but never raced.
In 1983 Yoda worked on engine development for Kenny Roberts' OW61 500 and in '86 he became project leader for the YZR250, winning the world title with Carlos Lavado in his first season in Europe.
He stayed with 250s until '94 when he returned to Japan to continue work on the YZR500 engine, before reverting once again to 250s in '98, winning the All-Japan title with Shinya Nakano. He returned to Europe the following year, working with Nakano and Olivier Jacque, who won the 250 World Championship in 2000. Yoda became YZR-M1 project leader in April 2001.
Married and based at Hamamatsu, these days Yoda finds little time for his interests of painting, sailing and judo, but still manages to keep to a strict fitness regime. Here he talks about the second generation M1 engine, his hopes for 2002 and a lot more:
You've got a second-generation M1 engine on the way for testing before the season starts, how does it differ from the current motor?
It's basically the same but with a little more power and slightly modified character. We've also been dyno testing an electronic engine-braking control system. This is why I like the new regulations because they allow engineers to work on new ideas. The 500s had run into a wall, which wasn't much fun for engineers.
How does M1 engine maintenance compare to the 500?
A lot of the M1's internal parts last longer, pistons last more than twice as long, the crankshaft three times as long. But total cost of maintenance is a little higher because the four-stroke has more parts.
You've tested four different chassis during the winter, how many will the riders choose from during the season?
We've been trying different stiffness ratios and different geometry, but the idea is to get down to one chassis for the start of the season, then maybe we'll build another halfway through. We have a lot of experience and knowledge with this chassis because it's similar to the 500's. We considered a V4 and a triple engine layout but they wouldn't work with this chassis and we think this first season would be difficult if we'd produced a completely new chassis.
Although your principal job in 2002 is YZR-M1 Project Leader, Yamaha will also field six riders in MotoGP aboard YZR500 two-strokes. What differences in performance do you expect to see and which types of track do you think will best suit the different machines?