The new-look MotoGP World Championship takes South Africa by storm this weekend, a fortnight after a stunning start to its new four-stroke era at a rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix. Four-strokes dominated at Suzuka, with qualifying and racing closer than anyone had expected. It had only been natural to assume that the early stages of this new age of technology would be marked by a wider-than-usual spread of different performing machinery but the Suzuka grid was the closest in history, covered by just 2.9 seconds. This bodes well for a thrilling 2002 season, as well as a brilliant future for the series.

Marlboro Yamaha Team riders Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi were in the thick of the action, of course. Both men qualified within two tenths of a second of pole on their YZR-M1s, Checa going on to finish the race a magnificent third, while Biaggi was less lucky, sliding off mid-race. The Italian wasn't alone, almost half the grid fell victim to the treacherous conditions!

Their speed was all the more impressive considering that both men were effectively limited to one machine each during the weekend. Only days before the event they had been equipped with one third-generation YZR-M1 chassis apiece, which they liked so much that they mostly left their other bikes parked in the pits. At Welkom, thanks to prodigious work from Yamaha's Motorsport Division, all the team's bikes will run the new chassis. And more improvements are expected as the racing moves on to Europe with the Spanish GP on May 5.

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