The result may not have been what he was looking for but Max Biaggi's speed at Suzuka proved that he will be a force to reckon with in four-stroke MotoGP racing. The former 250 World Champion had never even ridden a four stroke racer until he tested his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR-M1 for the first time last year but he has quickly adapted to the machine's different demands.

At Suzuka he qualified just 0.230 seconds off pole and just 0.006 seconds off the front row, and was looking forward to a great four-stroke debut. Unfortunately the rain spoiled his hopes, Biaggi sliding off after kissing a slippery trackside white line with his front tyre.

"The bike was pretty good, we were unlucky to have rain because we'd done some good work on set-up during practice," says the Roman. "The crash was a silly mistake but now we're looking forward to Welkom, where I hope to get a good result.

"Like most tracks, what you really need at Welkom is good handling and stability, so you can use the bike's maximum performance. It's quite a bumpy track and it'll be interesting to see how the M1 handles that, as most of the tracks we've been to so far have been pretty smooth. It's also not got so much grip, so we'll see how the four stroke works against the two-strokes in this situation. I quite like the track, and maybe the most crucial section is the series of high-speed flicks after turn one, because you can make some time there. The three rights that lead on to the back straight are also important, and you need a good set-up to get through those turns as quick as possible."

Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's chief engineer is pleased with the progress made so far. "We learned a lot at Suzuka, now we have a good base set-up so I'm feeling confident about Welkom," says Fanali. "We made big improvements at the Suzuka IRTA tests, and finally got the new chassis right for qualifying. Max now feels much more comfortable on the bike, so he can ride the way he wants to ride. He had spent all his career riding two-strokes so obviously it took us a while to understand what he needed to ride the four-stroke."

The Marlboro Yamaha Team has also made giant strides forward with the M1's radical electronically controlled engine-braking system, fine tuning the various factors that help operate the hi-tech unit. "We worked very hard on that at Suzuka," Fanali adds. "We improved it a lot, so Max is no longer losing time into the corners."

The new breed of four-strokes ruled at Suzuka, with Norick Abe's Yamaha YZR500 the top-finishing two-stroke in fifth place. Biaggi, who finished second in last year's final 500 World Championship riding YZR500s, is now wholly focused on getting the best out of his M1s.

"I've not even been thinking about the 500 for some while," he adds. "This new project is so interesting, we have so much to discover. It's very interesting work, and although it is totally normal to make some mistakes when you are developing a new project, I think we have made some good progress in recent weeks. As always, we're working very hard and aiming to improve race by race." As Biaggi is fully aware, Rome wasn't built in a day!

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