The French GP two weeks ago signalled the renaissance of Max Biaggi. The Marlboro Yamaha Team ace dominated Le Mans, winning his first GP of 2001 and lifting himself to third in the World Championship.

Following difficult races in South Africa and Spain, Biaggi was in masterful form following crucial tests at Mugello, where his technicians changed direction on bike settings. Both the Roman and his crew believe they have turned the corner on set-up and intend to use their recently gained knowledge to devastating effect this weekend.

"We've changed our chassis configuration, so I'm getting better feel from the bike," says Biaggi, who races his 51st 500 GP on Sunday. "And it seems to work at other tracks too. On Friday at Le Mans we ran one bike with the original set-up and the other with our new settings, and the new configuration was immediately better."

As well as fine tuning chassis set-up during their Mugello tests, Biaggi and his team also changed direction on tyres. In the past Biaggi has switched back and forth between Michelin's 17in and 16.5in rears, choosing one tyre or the other according to circuit characteristics.

The 17 offers easier handling but the 16.5 offers superior race-long traction thanks to a radical profile that puts more rubber on the road at maximum lean for extra grip and cooler running. At Mugello they decided to focus on 16.5s and also switched to a different Michelin front slick.

"In the past Max sometimes tried 17s but we've worked to improve our range of settings with the 16.5, so we can react better if we encounter set-up difficulties," explains Marlboro Yamaha Team director Hiroya Atsumi. "The new front has also helped."

At Le Mans, even Biaggi's arch-rival Valentino Rossi, winner of the opening three races of 2001, acknowledged for the first time that the Marlboro Yamaha Team had gained a technical advantage. Atsumi adds: "I think we've got a great set-up and what we learned during our Mugello tests will be a real help to us this weekend. I'm hoping for another one-two."

Marlboro Yamaha Team manager Geoff Crust shares Atsumi's optimism. "We were at a bit of a low ebb after Jerez but we've moved on from there and the whole team deserved the Le Mans result. We're now using a more straightforward programme at races, sticking with what we know, and only trying new ideas when we go testing. Our bikes are definitely better now, so Max can concentrate on detail settings and tyre choice in the run up to Sunday's race."

Last year's three-way Mugello contest was so intense that Loris Capirossi was the only one to make the finish line without a fall. Both his rivals tumbled as the conflict reached its climax, Biaggi bravely remounting to finish ninth.

"That was an incredible race and I expect the same kind of thing this time," says Biaggi. "There's going to be so much pressure on all three of us. I'll be trying hard as I can and hoping I can win."



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