Alex Barros, now firmly ensconced as a Yamaha rider for 2003, is touted among the favourites for the world title in 2003. In an exclusive for Crash Brazil, the Brazilian talks about his chance to run with a factory team, his hopes for the coming year and the absence of successors in Brazilian national bike racing....

Q:
Tell us about your career before you made it to MotoGP...

Alex Barros:
Well, I made my debut in motorcycling in 1978, and conquered four national titles in seven years. Then, in 1986, I graduated to the world 80cc championship, staying for two years before moving on to the 450cc category in 1989.

In 1990, I entered MotoGP with Cagiva, where I stayed for three years, before moving to Suzuki, where I won my first race, and then, in 1995, to Honda. Now I have moved on again for 2003, and will be with Yamaha.

Q:
How was that first victory - in the GP of Jarama of 1993?

AB:
It was difficult - the first time always is. I was very excited, especially as, in the two previous races, I had led only to stop near the end. In this race, I was praying that nothing would happen, nothing would go wrong. In the end, the opposite thing happened - the leaders retired and I kept on going.

Q:
What do you expect from 2003 now that you are riding for Yamaha?

AB:
Last season was bad for me because the regulations changed and there were two categories running alongside each other - just as if F1 and F3000 were running together in the top championship for cars. I hope to find that things will be more more equal this year, with new marques coming into the category. I hope that the difference [between us] and the Honda will not be so hard and that, for me, the championship will be more more competitive.

Q:
What were the advantages of signing with Yamaha as opposed to either Honda or Kawasaki?

AB:
The negotiations happened before the GP of Rio - and were not something that I expected to take place. Although at that time, my salary was likely to be less [than at Pons], I was interested to know that I would be the number one rider and have my 'own' bike - something that would not happen at Honda. I did not necessarily want to leave Honda, but I wanted more than a basic bike [when the likes of Valentino Rossi had development versions].

Nobody knows the main differences between the Honda and the Yamaha. The frame, as always, is better, but the problem is in the transmission of the power from the engine to the wheels. Beyond that, the motorbike is a little light at front, although already we are concentrating on that problem.

It is to first time that I have a chance to be world champion. The Yamaha is already at the same level as the Honda, and the bike is being built to my demands - exactly as I want it. The engine, chassis, everything, is exclusive. With that, it is a lot easier to work with the engineers.

Q:
Do you believe that the Yamaha will have equality with Honda?

AB:
The two factories have the same technical structure. Yamaha has a lot of people. At Honda Pons, there were only 28 people for the two riders while, at Yamaha, there are already new engineers at each test. The two teams are very different, but that is just a question of adapting.

In my first test with the Yamaha, my times were already similar to those of the Hondas - and I found that they had more difficulty in getting down to those . The Yamaha is very confidence-inspiring, and I am delighted to have this chance to ride for them.

Q:
How is your relationship with the Yamaha people?

AB:
Very good - I am very satisfied with the level of skill shown by the people working there, and I am giving information that is necessary [to move the team and bike forward]. When Max Biaggi left, the team felt it had been abandoned but, apparently, when I signed, the people there were re-invigorated - and I am able to tell that the team is completely behind me.

Q:
How is your relationship with team-mate Olivier Jacque?

AB:
It is good. Running in the same team will be an incentive for both of us to improve, and I expect that he can improve on his results from last year, just as I can. Ironically, it was me that removed the chance of him taking a victory in 2002 [when we crashed in the German GP at the Sachsenring].

Q:
How did your first test with the team go?

AB:
We did three tests, with one of them being held in the rain. As I said earlier, the first test saw me record times similar to those of the Hondas, and I found that they were struggling to repeat the times. However, this month, I will test again at Jerez and Val?ncia and, in February, I will do the first group test.

Q:
Was 2002 the best year of your career? Do you think that, despite being on a two-stroke for much of the year, that your performances proved that you were one of the best riders in the championship?

AB:
I think so, yes, although I would like to think that I had already shown that, and didn't have much to prove to anyone. What I need now is the chance to show my ability in a fight for the world title.

Q:
With a factory bike and twelve years' experience, do you think that you are ready to fight with Valentino Rossi for the world title?

AB:
I have a dream - to be world champion - and I will do of everything to conquer that objective.

Q:
What are the main differences between you and Rossi?

AB:
We are very similar in many ways, but he has his style and I have mine. Last season was the easiest championship for him to win, as he alone had a bike capable of taking the title. He had the best four-stroke and easily beat the others. He was able to disappear on the straights, because my bike was around 10kph slower. However, when all of the riders had similar machinery, the difference between us fell sharply.

Q:
Do you have a problem with him?

AB:
No, not really. We've only had one real incident - in Malaysia where, in the last laps, we touched. I know that there was no malice in that touch, but I also know how to defend myself. I am going to study even harder for this year!

Q:
With so much success and a place in the highest category on the world stage, what do you think needs to be done to bring on more riders from the Brazilian bike racing scene - something that does not happen at the moment...

AB:
What is lacking is a world champion! If I win the title, Brazil will benefit a lot, and particularly its bike racing. All sports in Brazil work best with an idol, as has been shown by Guga (tennis), Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna (F1), Pel? (soccer). With a champion, especially a world champion, interest in the sport increases - as well as sponsorship, riders, entrants, and so on.

Brazil does not have a tradition in motorcycling, and to represent a country without tradition is difficult. It is very strange that Brazil does not have more of a tradition, as there is healthy trade in motorbikes - perhaps even more than in Spain [a country where MotoGP is very popular].

The country lacks a base for the sport. Clearly, the economy makes it a little more difficult, but there are other ways to make a championships. Everything could happens if the country has a world champion....

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