The 2002 Suzuka MotoGP will mark the launch of the all-new combined four-stroke/two-stroke MotoGP World Championship; with less than 990cc four-strokes taking on the most successful two-stroke engine configuration in more than a decade - the V-four 500.

The unique figure eight Japanese circuit will form the battleground for the most unpredictable race in 50 years. In addition, a wide range of engine layouts including in-line-fours, V-fours, V-fives and triples will be combined with Michelin, Dunlop and Bridgestone tyres to ensure the end result will be uncertain, which will only add to the entertainment value of the MotoGP championship.

In 2001 this race set the standard for the championship that followed, with fast competitive racing throughout. After a series of spectacular moves by race leader Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM), and the rest of the field, it was Valentino Rossi (Honda) who eventually slid past to take the win from the Australian. Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) followed close behind with only 0.956 seconds covering the trio after 21 laps. Combined with the performance of local hero Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha d'Antin) and Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3), the latter putting in a fantastic MotoGP 500 race debut after qualifying on the front row, it made four Yamaha's finishing in the top five.

Red Bull Yamaha WCM teammate Noriyuki Haga put in a stunning performance in his first MotoGP race to challenge for a podium place until he lost the front of his YZR500 through the high-speed right-hander leading up to the Suzuka first gear hairpin. Meanwhile Carlos Checa had a weekend he'd prefer to forget, first the flu affecting his performance in qualifying after a strong pre-season, and then a crash in the opening stages of the race left him languishing back in tenth after bravely remounting his Marlboro Yamaha YZR500. The Spaniard his hoping for better luck this time round.

For the YZR-M1, the 2002 Suzuka MotoGP will be an important step in its development with latest evolution of its Deltabox chassis concept only being introduced during the IRTA test one week earlier. Designed to offer increased feel on the front end, and improve the overall balance during the turn in stage, this new chassis has deviated slightly from the initial strategy to feature revised geometry characteristics. The key difference from the former is the location of the engine within the chassis, mounted to increase turn in response, which will be a crucial advantage from turn two through to the first gear hairpin - considered the most important part of the circuit when time is a factor.

Another section of the circuit that the new chassis offers an advantage over the one it replaces is the fast blind right-hander over the back of the circuit. But it wasn't simply a case of slip in the latest frame to achieve this forward progress, even though the suspension settings are quite similar to the 500. The key to the success during the test was finding a base geometry setting, which is quite different to anything Yamaha has used in the past. Reducing the rear ride height has had the interesting effect of improving front-end feel while also ensuring stability under brakes. During the MotoGP weekend Yamaha will need to continue fine-tuning this base set-up before the full potential of the latest chassis can be achieved.

Engine wise Yamaha engineers have opted to tune the YZR-M1 in-line four-stroke to offer a strong midrange to top end delivery, but without sacrificing the throttle connection in the lower rev range. This latter point will be extremely important around Suzuka, where the side of the tyre is ridden hard for excessive periods on a trailing throttle. How a turn is exited at Suzuka determines how the next one is entered and this is the key factor that produces a race winner.

For the YZR500, with Suzuka made up of linked sweeping corners the main aim is to find a balanced set-up that offers good feel from both the front and rear of the motorcycle. A fast lap here comes with high consistent corner speed, minimal braking and the ability to drive hard off the turns. The rider and bike have to flow with the circuit, otherwise one mistake will lead onto the next sequence of turns affecting the ability to get good drive. A fast lap-time at Suzuka often comes to the rider who isn't trying too hard, particularly through this part of the track.

To help achieve this, the front-end of the motorcycle is dialed in a little softer than at most other circuits - made possible with only two hard braking corners (the hairpin and the chicane). It will help with the bike's turn in and offers much needed feedback on a circuit that loads up the front tyre substantially.

Ensuring the YZR500 is able to hold its line while driving off the turns, the rear suspension unit is set a little on the firm side. It helps to prevent the rear of the bike from squatting - which can unload the front and force the bike to understeer. As for the rear tyre, it is likely Michelin's range of 16.5 inch rubber will be employed. It offers the consistency and side-grip characteristics to suit the long sweeping corners, but some riders may opt for the new profile tyre designed to suit the power characteristics of the 200-plus horsepower four-strokes. It's larger contact patch on the side of the tyre, designed to spread the increased forces produced by the larger capacity machines, has proven to offer a similar advantage to the two-stroke 500s with no apparent side

The 500's V-four will be tuned to offer a strong midrange and top-end power delivery, although this will hinder the rider somewhat in the two first gear corners. It's a calculated compromise that should offer a better overall package.