MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri rode his strongest race of the season so far at Estoril yesterday, achieving consistently fast laps while battling for his best finish of the season in seventh.

The Italian rider claimed to have a tricky start but quickly passed several riders by the third lap. He then entered an impressive lap-by-lap battle for sixth position with Honda rider Tohru Ukawa and Ducati's Troy Bayliss, eventually ending the contest between the pair for nine championship points.

However, he could have achieved even greater heights had it not been for a mysterious arm problem. Melandri wouldn't reveal the cause, only that it 'won't happen again' suggesting something he found embarrassing...

"I am quite happy," began the twenty-one-year-old. "At the same time I am a bit angry because I had some problems with my right arm and I couldn't brake properly on the esses. I know why and it won't happen again. It was a very nice race though, and I had fun. I am also happy to be the fastest Yamaha!"

Fortuna Yamaha team director Davide Brivio was also keeping quiet about the cause of Melandri's problems.

"It was a very good day for Marco," said Brivio. "Of course it could have been even better if he hadn't got some pain in his arm. Seventh position is a good result and his best so far, as well as the best of the Yamahas. I hope this helps to give him even more confidence. We still have more races to go and I expect a good end of season for him."

Meanwhile, team-mate Checa had a difficult race, despite having a rather positive weekend overall and a reasonable qualifying, eventually ending the contest in eighth.

"I had some problems at the beginning, braking with a full tank of gas," said Checa, who has been linked with a move alongside countryman Sete Gibernau on a Telefonica Honda next year. "During the first ten laps there was too much pitching, and I think if it hadn't been for that I could have finished in the first five.

"My crew did change my suspension slightly during the weekend but unfortunately it didn't pay off today. We have discussed the race and agree that we need to alter the geometry again, and have a clear direction of where we need to go now," he claimed. "We tested some different tyres (on Saturday) but it was too risky to try them out (in the race). We know the base of the problem, and we're all working hard in the same direction to sort it out."

"Carlos showed at the end that he could have had a bit more pace," said Brivio. "His result is quite disappointing and we'll have to look into that problem to ensure it doesn't happen again and that Carlos feels confident for Rio."



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