Casey Stoner stormed to the first pole position of 2010 in Qatar
tonight and will start the opening race as a red-hot favorite for his 21st MotoGP victory. Fastest in free practice yesterday and earlier tonight, the 24-year-old continued his love affair with the Losail International Circuit to claim his third pole position in the last four races.
Marlboro Ducati's Casey Stoner is poised to run his victory streak at Qatar to four after claiming pole in tonight's qualifying.
A best time of 1’55.007 on his penultimate lap of 19 secured Stoner pole by 0.355-second over reigning world champion Valentino Rossi. Aussie Stoner led for much of the session after deposing early of fast-running Dani Pedrosa 15 minutes into the contest.
Stoner reeled off a series of quick laps on hard compound Bridgestone race tires to move over 0.6-second clear before he came under intense pressure from Rossi, who hasn’t won the opening race of the season since 2005. Stoner though won’t need reminding that the last time he started from the front of the grid in Valencia, he inexplicably crashed out on the warm-up lap.
The 2007 world champion said, “This is the best way we can start off because we’ve been slowly improving the bike in testing and we’ve been getting faster and faster and understanding this (Big Bang) engine a lot more. We’ve been able to get the most out of it since the beginning and getting used to a few things that were quite a lot different to the old engine. We’re definitely getting more comfortable with the bike but we’ve arrived at a point now where I’m happy and we understand how we need to set the bike up. For this race everything is working perfectly and we couldn’t ask for a lot more."
Rossi looked on course to snatch pole from Stoner on his last flying lap on soft compound Bridgestone tires. He was marginally quicker than Stoner’s Ducati GP10 through the first three sections of the Losail International Circuit but lost over three-tenths in the fourth and final sector. The seven-times MotoGP world champion admitted it would be difficult to mount a challenge against a formidable Stoner.
Valentino Rossi will mount a charge against Stoner from the second starting position on the grid.
“I think it will be difficult but I’m happy about my work in the practice and I have a good rhythm with the hard tires, so it is good for the race. Unfortunately with the soft tire I slide a bit too much and we have a little bit more of a problem than I expected. I wasn’t able to improve enough to battle for the pole position with Casey but we are quite ready and we try to improve some problem for tomorrow. It will be very important to make a good start and push from the first lap. After it will be a long race and very tough for us to try and beat Casey, but we will try.”
Rossi still claimed a 12th front row start in his last 13 races to edge out Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
The Spaniard logged a best lap of 1’55.520 on his last lap to finish just 0.158-second behind Rossi to complete a replica of the 2009 front row of the grid.
The 22-year-old though doubts whether he will be capable of challenging Rossi and Stoner having encountered some rear grip issues with Bridgestone’s hard compound race tire.
“The position is very good and I’m really happy about this. What I’m not so happy about is the performance of the bike. We lost a lot of grip on the rear so for me it is quite difficult to be fast. I think for tomorrow the best thing to do will be to finish the race as the best I can and try to improve the bike tonight. For me I think the rear grip is more of a problem than the hand. The hand is not perfect and on the braking I felt a lot of pain, but to be fast the bigger problem is the rear tire. To finish on the podium will be a perfect result,” Lorenzo said.
The second row of the grid will be headed by French rider Randy de Puniet, who was again in impressive form on the LCR Honda to clock a best time of 1’55.831 as less than a second split the top eight riders.
Senior MotoGP statesman Loris Capirossi was honored by governing body Dorna for competing in his record 300th GP race.
Loris Capirossi bolstered his hopes of a leading finish in his record-breaking 300th Grand Prix appearance tomorrow night after qualifying fifth. Capirossi was just 0.064-second faster than Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso with RC212V teammate Dani Pedrosa in seventh.
The Spaniard had threatened a big shock early on when he led the timesheets but he slipped down to the second row. Pedrosa, who ran off at the first corner with 24 minutes remaining, posted a best time of 1’55.990 to finish just 0.027-second adrift of Dovizioso. Pedrosa at least saw a dramatic improvement on his 2009 grid position after he was left languishing down in 14th on the grid last season.
Colin Edwards was as high as third place at one stage before the veteran Texan had to settle for eighth place on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1 machine.
Fellow American Ben Spies had a somewhat disappointing session. He will start his first full season in MotoGP from 11th on the grid after clocking a best time of 1.56.271. The reigning World Superbike champion admitted he just didn’t get the best out of Bridgestone’s soft rubber in the final stages of the session.
The 25-year-old Texan said “It wasn't a good session really and I never got to use the advantage of the soft tire. I didn't get it done and I never really put in a clean lap. But I am happy with the lap time we put in on race tires. The positive is I did my fastest time on race tires that had a lot of laps on them. The top four guys are obviously a little bit quicker on hard tires. But the majority of the people that were quicker than me were on soft tires, so we've just got to try to get a good start. I think the race pace I've got is still good, but I'm going to have a hard time passing people down this long straight. I'm right behind Colin on the grid and can hopefully jump in behind him and go.”
Reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies will have his work cut out for him in his first MotoGP race for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad after qualifying in 11th.
Hiroshi Aoyama ended up the leading 250GP graduate with a best lap of 1’56.227, giving him a morale-boosting tenth on the grid.
It was an eventful night for fellow rookies Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista. Gresini Honda rider Simoncelli’s tough spell continued as he ended up only 15th fastest after he crashed his RC212V machine at the first corner after just seven minutes. He walked away unhurt, as did Mika Kallio after he tumbled off his Pramac Ducati just moments later.
“Unfortunately the session didn’t start well with the crash, which meant I needed a few laps to regain my confidence and set back the whole program. It is a shame because we really needed to get through a full session. I just went into the corner too hard - trying to avoid Aoyama I braked too late and lost the front when I tipped it in. I’m disappointed because I had a good feeling in free practice. Now we have the warm up to try and sort a few things out, then it’s a case of giving my best in the race, ” Simoncelli said.
Factory Suzuki rookie Alvaro Bautista was 13th on the timesheets and he too escaped injury when he crashed his GSV-R machine in the final minute.
More Riders’ Quotes Courtesy of Team Press Releases:
Casey Stoner – Marlboro Ducati
“You always have some more issues to get rid of but we’ve got to be happy with pole position and quite a good set-up for the race. The good thing is that we’ve got the same chassis from last year and we can understand how that works and it seems to be working very well. We’ve got a full carbon chassis now and with this engine the carbon swingarm works a lot better too. We’re very happy with the position we’re at and throughout the season we’re going to be a lot stronger than in the past.”
Valentino Rossi – Fiat Yamaha
"I'm really happy about the work we've done today on our set up and now we have a good race pace with the hard Bridgestone tires. With the soft one the rear is still sliding a little bit too much, but I think for the race we are okay. My final flying lap was very fast but then I had to pass a couple of riders in the final sector and I lost some time, but anyway we have a good grid position so I am happy."
Jorge Lorenzo – Fiat Yamaha
"Considering my situation I am really happy about my grid position and I think we can be proud of our work. Unfortunately today though we have lost some feeling on the rear and it was difficult to go as fast as yesterday. My hand isn't perfect and I still have some pain in braking but I am less worried about that than about the bike. We will use the warm-up to try to make some improvements and then I will just do my best in the race and try for the podium."
Colin Edward – Monster Tech 3 Yamaha
"I made the bike a hundred times better than yesterday. I was really worried after last night that I was going to struggle
It is the third year in a row that the MotoGP race on the Losail circuit will be contested under the lights.
but I pretty much went back to last year's set-up and I'm happy with it. The bike just turned a lot better tonight and I had a lot more feeling from the front tire on the brakes. Yesterday I was so lost it felt like I was riding somebody else's bike. I'm confident for the race because I did some good laps on the hard tire. I'm a bit more consistent than those in front of me on race tires, so I don't think I'm out of the hunt for fourth place tomorrow at all. At the end of the day I was really close to being fourth on the grid. I had a couple of little issues on the soft tyre but Bridgestone have still done a great job and I'm looking forward to the race because of the consistency I've got on the hard race tyres. As always I'll be giving it my all for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team."
Loris Capirossi – Rizla Suzuki
“Overall I am quite happy with tonight’s qualifying, because after my crash yesterday we struggled a bit in the earlier practice, but at the end of the session we tried something different and in the qualifying it seemed to work well. Once we made the change I immediately went quicker and we modified the bike a bit more for qualifying and from that we found a very good setting. I went well in qualifying and I did 1’56 laps many times and this is good. In the end I followed Valentino and got a bit of help with my lap, but that doesn’t matter because I am happy with the result. I am pleased for the team because they made a huge effort after I destroyed a bike last night and the guys didn’t get to sleep until about five o’clock this morning! This is a small present to them, but we really hope we can have something better tomorrow to enjoy.”
Alvaro Bautista – Rizla Suzuki
“This is my first official crash in a race weekend, but I am still quite happy because I rode well and got a good setting for the bike during the free practice and I feel very good on the bike. I improved my time on the race tires and this is very important, but I also think I can still go a little bit faster. I have a good race rhythm and even though I am too far back on the grid for what I wanted, I will try to get a good start and run with a good group and see what happens. I am really excited for tomorrow’s race and I think I can enjoy myself and we’ll see what we can do.”
Mika Kallio - Pramac Racing
"We improved as lap time, but we are not happy with how things have gone today. I have slipped at the fourth lap without any error: probably the rear tire wasn't yet ready and I had to be more cautious. Also by telemetry seems that everything was going well. Coming in the box we had to change the set up of the second bike and only on the last lap of the session I managed to make a satisfactory lap time. It's a shame really, because after the result of today's free practice we could have aimed to better positions. We'll try to improve in tomorrow's race."
Aleix Espargarò - Pramac Racing
"We are happy because today we found a set-up of the bike highly satisfactory. A pity that in the first day of work we find too many difficulties, we must improve our performance during the season under this aspect. However, we are really close to the other riders and I am sure that tomorrow we can have some fun during the race. Expect a great show."