Casey Stoner announced his return to the competitive end of the MotoGP grid today with a typically exhilarating qualifying performance at Estoril, where he put in a strong challenge for pole position before settling for a front row start in third place. The Australian was in good physical shape at the end of the hour-long session and the arm-pump problems that he suffered yesterday were not as severe.
Stoner moved to the top of the time sheets early in the session, lapping faster than the rest of the field on three consecutive laps. Another brief spell in provisional pole at the midway stage was only bettered by Jorge Lorenzo, who went on to consolidate pole position whilst Valentino Rossi edged out Stoner for second place in the final stages by a mere 0.054 seconds. Nicky Hayden ran the new fairing on both of his Desmosedici machines today and he made gradual set-up progress throughout the day, only for his final flying lap to be thwarted by a clash with another rider on the front straight.
CASEY STONER (Ducati Marlboro Team) (3rd; 1’36.528)
“Yesterday it looked as though a front row start was a long shot but at the end of the qualifying session today I was actually disappointed not to be on pole! This morning we came out and everything felt good and this afternoon was the same. My body’s sore because I haven’t been on the bike for so long but so far I haven’t struggled with any of the symptoms that had bothered me before the break. We were competitive on race tyres but when we put the soft tyres on to make them work we couldn’t get any grip. We weren’t generating any heat into the right hand side of the tyre so I don’t know if it was a faulty batch or we were just unlucky. The second tyre had more grip but I didn’t use it to its full potential. Anyway, a front row start is nice for us and I want to thank my whole team and everybody else who has stuck by me lately. We’ve had a lot of critics while I’ve been away and I’ve had to laugh at some of the things I’ve read. Tomorrow is the race, which is the big one, but it’s nice to come back in this way and I think we’ve already shown that it was the right decision to take the time off.”
NICKY HAYDEN – (Ducati Marlboro Team) (9th; 1’37.654)
“We’ve made a little bit of progress in every session with every run, just slowly chipping away. We made quite a big change again this afternoon and dropped another eight tenths off the lap time, although obviously some of that was down to using the softer tyre. The team has done a good job – we’ve tried a couple of things we’ve never tried before and made some progress. I thought I maybe had the chance to qualify a little bit better but at the start of my last flying lap De Angelis ran into the back of me on the front straightaway! I mean, I can understand if you bump a guy in the middle of a second gear corner or something but there I was doing 274km/h and they can see on the data where the bike came unstable because you can see the steering go side to side. My first instinct was that something had happened to the bike so I shut off the throttle and it ruined my last flying lap. Anyway, we’re on the third row and it’s going to be a long, hard race tomorrow. I know a lot of guys in my group are going about the same speed but if we can take another little step in the morning we’ll be okay. Like always it will be important to get a good start and not get boxed in the first turn. We’ll see.”