Local hero Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) will start the final race of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship from the front row of the grid after going second quickest in this afternoon’s windswept Valencia GP qualifying session.
The Spanish star ended the outing just 0.263 seconds off pole-position man Casey Stoner (Ducati), to secure his tenth front-row start of the 2009 season. With just three minutes remaining he was fourth but a superb final run promoted him to the front row, despite the blustery conditions which gave riders plenty to think about. The wind itself was not the only problem, because the strong gusts were blowing dust onto the track surface, compromising grip from one corner to the next.
Tomorrow Pedrosa and Stoner will fight for more than race victory, they are also contesting third overall in the 2009 MotoGP series, with Pedrosa currently 11 points down on his Australian rival.
The pair are the class acts at this tight, tricky track. Pedrosa won the 2007 Valencia race and finished second last year, while Stoner won in 2008 and finished runner-up on his previous visit. But this time it looks like Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) may also join in the fun, the 2009 MotoGP runner-up taking the final front row slow, a slender two hundredths of a second slower than Pedrosa. Today’s pace was such that reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) was relegated to the second row.
Pedrosa’s race pace is good but he believes his crew can still find a few tenths in morning warm-up which will help him take the fight to Stoner. And Pedrosa aims to start the race with another of his lightning-fast getaways.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) was Honda’s second best today, qualifying seventh quickest to lead row three, missing out on a second-row start by just two tenths of a second. The Frenchman may well have done even better if he hadn’t crashed at turn one with 15 minutes of the session remaining. He was fourth quickest when he tumbled. De Puniet was unhurt and completed the session on his number-two bike but was unable to up his pace.
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) will line up alongside de Puniet for his final race with Fausto Gresini’s squad. The 2006 Portuguese GP winner was eighth quickest, a mere 0.084 seconds down on his fellow RCV rider.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) knows he will need another great start – like the start he achieved in Malaysia two weeks ago – if he is to run in the front pack. The Italian qualified tenth quickest after struggling to reproduce his morning pace in the afternoon session.
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) had been ninth fastest in the first two practice sessions, which had him hopeful of securing a third-row start, but this afternoon he struggled to get his RCV turned, a vital machine characteristic at this ultra-tight track.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) was 17th quickest and will be going for another points score tomorrow.
If reigning 250 World Champion Marco Simoncelli (Gilera) wins tomorrow’s historic final 250 race, current points leader Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) needs to finish 11th if he is to win the last 250 world title. The Japanese knows he has everything to play for after taking fifth spot in today’s 250 qualifier, three places and two tenths of a second behind Simoncelli. Aoyama, who leads Simoncelli by 21 points, has won four GPs so far this year and is hoping that the windy conditions subside before the race.
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) had a stunning final qualifying session on his RS250RW, scoring the first front-row start of his career in fourth spot. The Thai rider was just 0.093 seconds slower than third-fastest Hector Barbera (Aprilia) and 0.447 seconds off pole-sitter Alex Debon (Aprilia).
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) and Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) were tenth and 11th, struggling to achieve their best-possible time due to traffic and other riders falling in front of them.
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda), Shuhei Aoyama (Racing Team Germany Honda) and Valentin Debise (Team CIP Honda) were 16th, 20th and 21st, all of them commenting that the strong winds and dusty surface made it difficult to make progress.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 2nd – 1m 32.519s.
“I’m very pleased to be on the front row here, and the qualifying session went quite well for us. We’re still not at 100 per cent in set-up terms – especially in T3 where we’re losing some time. So if we can get that sorted out then I think our pace can be quite strong tomorrow, and we could maybe have challenged for pole position this afternoon. The front row is the important thing though, and now I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s race. I think everyone’s motivation for this race is very high and it should be a good battle – and a difficult one. I hope I’m there at the front fighting for the win because this would be a great way to finish the season for me and for the Repsol Honda Team. The other riders are strong though, so it won’t be easy. I’m excited about tomorrow and I hope to find that little bit extra on race day. For sure there will be many fans here as always and the atmosphere will be very special.”
Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda: 7th – 1m 33.391s.
“Well… we are not completely happy with our result but I am the second HRC rider on the grid and this is very positive!. This is a track I have gone well at in the past and since the beginning of the weekend I have been lapping consistently fast. In race trim early in the session I was pretty fast and once I switched to qualifiers I started to make my way up the timesheets. Unfortunately I came across a gearbox issue with 15 minutes to go and crashed at turn one. We will investigate to see what happened. Anyway, our race overall package is quite good and hopefully we will be fighting at the front again.”
Toni Elias, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 8th – 1m 33.475s.
“That was much better and I actually think we could have even finished fifth or sixth this afternoon but it wasn’t possible because of the amount of traffic out there at the end of the session – it was more like a 125cc race! Having said that the position is good enough to allow us to fight for a good result tomorrow. I just need to get a good start and hope that the front group can throw me a line and pull me along for a few laps! The track has improved a lot since yesterday because it is cleaner but the wind was probably stronger today and even though it doesn’t affect the MotoGP bikes as much as it does a 125 or 250 it is still a problem.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 10th – 1m 33.678s.
“So, we really need another good start tomorrow. We proved that was possible at the last race where I qualified quite far back but came through quickly. However, I’m frustrated with how today went because we were much closer in the morning but couldn’t convert that into a competitive qualifying performance. In race trim we have one second to improve to be on the pace of the leaders, and that is a big margin and means we have plenty of work to do tonight. We made some improvements in both sessions, but we still needed to find some set-up solutions which will allow me to get the maximum from the soft option Bridgestones. I need to be quick off the line tomorrow because starting from the fourth row makes everything more difficult. It’s the last race of the season though, and we’ll be giving it everything.”
Alex De Angelis, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 12th – 1m 33.844s.
“We didn’t really manage to improve the lap times from the morning to the afternoon and we’re starting quite far back on the grid. We’re struggling to get the bike turning in the tight corners and we need to work on that overnight to try and find a better solution for tomorrow. Actually the tyres are working well now and my race pace is closer to the others than my qualifying time was so hopefully we can be in the mix tomorrow.”
Gabor Talmacsi, Scot Honda: 17th – 1m 34.357s.
“That was the last qualifying session of the season, and I want to say that I’m quite happy. I’m not at the very bottom of the board and my lap times are competitive. The feeling with hard tyres is good and I enjoyed riding today. If this were my first GP in this class, I would rate it as a good base to start with. You know – as a former 125 World Champion, I thought I knew enough about this business. On the contrary, having a MotoGP bike to ride, I have had to tackle different problems and I’ve had many things to learn. Nevertheless, I proved I can stay in this category, and this was always my main target for the season.”
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Ratthapark Wilairot, Thai Honda PTT-SAG: 4th – 1m 36.563s.
“I’m so happy with today’s result, I’m on the first row and I did the time without any slipstreaming help. The bike is working perfectly and I feel so confident with it. Today we had only one problem, the wind is so strong which made all the riders lose their lines and lose speed, I hope that tomorrow the weather changes to make riding more comfortable. Tomorrow I will do my best to be on the podium and give a present to the team, to all the people who support me, my family and the Thai fans who follow my career.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, Scot Honda: 5th – 1m 36.656s.
“Very difficult conditions, and a lot of riders struggling. The wind was strong and unpredictable. I was able to put in a decent lap only at the end of the session. There is nothing to do but prepare a good set-up for tomorrow and then have a good race. I have no other target than a victory.”
Hector Faubel, Valencia CF-Honda SAG: 10th – 1m 37.318s.
“Today we had the same problem we’ve had other races – I found a lot of traffic when I found a good slipstream. I was behind Cluzel and he made a mistake that made the riders in front of me close the throttle and I had to brake. It’s a pity because it will be difficult to be in the front starting from the third row but it’s not impossible and since this is the last race of the 250 class, maybe something good will happen. For sure I will work at my maximum and enjoy this last race.”
Raffaele De Rosa, Scot Honda: 11th – 1m 37.365s.
“A session too windy to provide a real result, because of the strong, gusting wind. At one point a rider crashed in front of me, then another one. They were not good conditions for doing something special. I myself made a few mistakes, but I got my fastest lap without forcing things. Anyway, I believe we are in a good condition for the race.”
Shoya Tomizawa, Team CIP Honda: 16th – 1m 38.085s.
“Qualifying for me was so-so. This morning was very good, so I wanted to repeat that lap time but I could not. We had a little problem with settings and with my riding, which we will try and fix before the race. The cool temperatures and strong winds make everything quite difficult here.”
Shuhei Aoyama, Racing Team Germany Honda: 20th – 1m 38.795s. “It was very difficult today. We changed a lot on the settings. The suspension was better than yesterday but this morning.
I had some problems accelerating out of corners. For tomorrow I have to change my riding style and try to brake earlier and use more speed out of the corners.”
Valentin Debise, Team CIP Honda: 21st – 1m 39.283s
“Like everyone we are struggling with grip, because so much dust is getting blown on to the circuit. We cannot get the best out of the front tyre, even though we have made many changes. I also had a crash at turn four, while I was trying to follow (Alvaro) Bautista.”