It was a risky business, though — had the Yamaha duo wiped each other out in vying for the title, it would have been Katoh and Honda, not Yamaha, who won it. Nakano led this nail-biting two-wheeled game of poker until the two of them exited the last top-gear corner leading onto the Gardner Straight on the final lap, with the chequered flag awaiting them. Then, in a brilliantly judged slipstreaming maneuver, Olivier Jacque wafted past his fellow Yamaha rider to lead across the line by just 0.014sec, to snatch the world title from his teammate after a season in which the two of them had dominated the standings, with eight victories in the sixteen races (three for Jacque, five for Nakano), eight pole positions, 23 visits to the podium and first and second in the championship. Can’t ask for much more, can you?
Indeed, few world titles had yet been won with as much finesse as Olivier Jacque’s aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha YZR250 0WL5 — the factory designation for this unique machine. No wonder Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal sat drained of emotion in the press room after the race when I congratulated him on a mission accomplished in full. ‘I don’t want to have to go through that again!’ he said ruefully. ‘Winning the title is great, but knowing that the slightest slip could have lost everything meant we were living on the edge. I feel relief as much as exaltation that it all turned out OK.’ Well, OK for OJ, anyway — and Yamaha, too, of course!
The chance to ride the Chesterfield-sponsored Jacque YZR250 at Jerez a month later, just a couple of weeks after I tested Katoh’s third-place NSR250 Honda in Japan, uncovered the secrets of Yamaha’s success. First, though, while Tech 3 mechanic Josian Rustique prepared the bike for me, there was the chance to feast my eyes on the myriad impressive details of what, thanks to its voluptuous and effective streamlining, was surely the most distinctive looking bike on the Grand Prix grids in any class of the Y2K season. It was a reliable one, too, with zero mechanical DNFs all year on a bike which was apparently easier to work on than the NSR250, with everything more accessible, and engine setup far less critical — just put gas in, pump up the tyres — and go! Of course, Tech 3 and OJ were in the Honda camp till the 1999 season, so they had the basis for a valid comparison.
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