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Q&A: Ichiro Yoda - Yamaha YZR-M1 project leader

11 January 2002

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:


Q:
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?

Ichiro Yoda:
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.

Q:
How does M1 engine maintenance compare to the 500?

IY:
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.

Q:
You've tested four different chassis during the winter, how many will the riders choose from during the season?

IY:
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.

Q:
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?

IY:
We have already had several tests to compare the four-stroke and two-stroke bikes. We are, therefore, quite aware of the advantages and disadvantages of both machines. However, personally as the M1 project leader, I don't really want to give too much away since we are still at the development stage and the season has not started yet. Both the four-stroke and two-stroke development engineers are still working hard to improve both bikes before the season starts. We'll have to wait until after the first few races before I can give an assessment of both bikes' performance characteristics.

Q:
Tyre life has been a big concern – how does the M1 use tyres compared to the 500s?

IY:
The four-stroke's power is stronger than the 500's at initial throttle opening but after that it's very smooth. The M1's tyres should last longer even if they're sliding because the power is so controllable.

Q:
The YZR-M1 uses an in-line four-cylinder engine with five valves per cylinder. This configuration is similar to the successful R1 and R6 supersports machines sold by Yamaha. How long do you think it will take for M1 technology to filter through to Yamaha's range of streetbikes?

IY:
We already have a strong link with the designers working on Yamaha production bikes. Our engineers working on both engine and chassis design have frequent discussions with the production engineers in order to swap ideas and information. Under these conditions we are already involved, in part, in the development stage of production bikes. At the same time, we might consider producing M1 replica bikes at some stage in the future. Obviously we want to see success on the track first of all

Q:
The Marlboro Yamaha Team has the exclusive use of the YZR-M1 during 2001. Do you have any idea how long before Yamaha will equip other teams with four-strokes?

IY:
At this stage, I cannot answer this question. First we must evaluate what happens in the races at the beginning of the season. Hopefully we shall win a few races and then we'll evaluate our position before deciding on our future strategy.

Q:
Yamaha has several four-stroke competitors this year – Honda's V5, Suzuki's V4 and Aprilia's in-line 3 – this new array of technology must make the 2002 season very exciting and interesting for you and your team of engineers?

IY:
Yes, that's very true. All of our engineers are truly excited about this season and the work that's going on in our Motorsports Engineering Division. I personally believe that we can create something new and exciting for a new generation of race fans and, at same time, we can stimulate our production bike development. Motorcycle sales is, of course, Yamaha's core business and if what we are doing in racing has a positive impact on that business then it is good for all of us.

Q:
With this unique sense of anticipation about this season you must be really excited about getting to the first GP oat Suzuka and starting to race?

IY:
Of course, Suzuka will be a very exciting time when we see the fruit of all our hard work racing for the first time. However, honestly speaking, it may come a bit too soon for me. I would always like more time to develop the bike After several tests with our riders, we've found many interesting things to develop for the bike. It's a completely new bike and time is going very quickly. It would be nice to have the luxury of more time to make sure the bike is 100%.

Q:
What are your hopes for the 2002 season?

IY:
Our target is to win the championship and I think that's possible because we have something good here. Hopefully we'll get the championship one-two


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