Casey Stoner gave himself the best possible chance of taking his fourth successive MotoGP victory in Qatar tomorrow, by qualifying his Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici on pole position.
The Australian rider has topped every practice and qualifying session this weekend, holding off a late charge from reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi during qualifying to claim prime position on the grid for tomorrow’s 22-lap Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar.
“We’re only at the start of a very long season, but this is a perfect start and I’m really pleased,” declared Stoner. “I’m sure I was on for a faster lap, but then my gear shifter got stuck at turn two.
“To have set a virtually identical time on both the hard and soft tyres is obviously encouraging for the race, but the only objective here is to take some solid points to Japan.”
Rossi, who topped the timesheet briefly during qualifying this evening, looked set to topple Stoner from the top spot with a late charge, but the Fiat Yamaha rider lost time in the final corner and was forced to settle for second place on the grid, 0.355 adrift of Stoner and his Ducati.
Jorge Lorenzo secured the final spot on the front row of the grid with his final lap of the hour-long session, declaring himself fighting fit after his pre-season injury, but concerned about a lack of rear traction that had caused him issues during the qualifying session.
Randy de Puniet was the fastest Honda mounted qualifier this evening, finishing fifth fastest to head up the second row of the grid, where he will be joined by Loris Capirossi, who will celebrate his 300th Grand Prix start tomorrow, and fellow Honda rider, Andrea Dovizioso.
Colin Edwards got the better of fellow countryman Nicky Hayden to take eighth place, with the first of the MotoGP rookies, reigning 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama, joining the two Americans on the third row of the grid in ninth.
Another MotoGP rookie Ben Spies rounded out the top ten for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team.
Toni Elias rode through the pain barrier this evening to claim pole position for tomorrow’s first ever Moto2 World Championship race. The former MotoGP rider crashed heavily during the final pre-season test in Jerez and arrived in Qatar on crutches following surgery on a fractured ankle and hand.
The 27-year-old Spaniard had to have painkilling injections ahead of qualifying, but the pain was forgotten as he parked his Gresini Moriwaki on the number one spot in parc ferme at the end of the 45-minute timed session.
Reigning 125cc World Champion Julian Simon secured second place on the grid aboard his Mapfre Aspar RSV machine, just 0.006 ahead of former 125cc rival, Stefan Bradl.
Another former MotoGP rider Alex De Angelis secured fourth position, with the result that four different chassis manufacturers will be represented on the front row of the Moto2 grid in Qatar.
A late charge by Yuki Takahashi secured the Japanese rider fifth place on the grid, ahead of Jules Cluzel, Raffaele De Rosa and the elder statesman of the Moto2 class Alex Debon.
With 41 riders on the grid, the first ever Moto2 race promises to be an exciting affair.
Marc Marquez will start the first 125cc World Championship race from pole position aboard his Red Bull Ajo Motorsport Derbi, after holding off the challenge of fellow Derbi rider, Pol Espargaro.
Nico Terol qualified his Bancaja Aspar Aprilia in third place, just ahead of the second Tuenti Racing Derbi of Efren Vazquez.
Randy Krummenacher finished qualifying fifth fastest and will head up the second row of the grid, in front of Tomoyoshi Koyama, Sandro Cortese and Alexis Masbou.
Runner up in last year’s 125cc World Championship, Bradley Smith has struggled throughout the Qatar weekend with machinery problems, but the British rider managed to salvage ninth place on the grid with his very last lap in the timed session. Esteve Rabat rounded out the top ten aboard his Blusens STX Aprilia.
MOTOGP RIDER QUOTES:
Casey Stoner: “It is only the start of a very long season but it is the perfect start and I’m really pleased. This bike needs a little bit more time to set up because of the characteristics of the new engine so we’ll see how we go at other tracks but it definitely likes this circuit and the team have done a great job. Unfortunately my gear shifter got stuck coming out of turn two on what I’m sure would have been my fastest lap on a soft tyre so we had to rely on my best lap on a race tyre, which had 16 laps on it. That is obviously encouraging for the race but the only objective here is to start the season on the right foot and take some solid points to Japan.”
Nicky Hayden: “We made some changes to the front that have definitely helped me out in the fast corners today but we struggled to put everything together for a whole lap. I did a couple of 1’56.1s but as hard as we tried we couldn’t quite drop into the 55s, even though looking at my ideal lap the potential is definitely there. Tomorrow we need to unlock that potential although starting from ninth place, out on the dirt, is not a good place to be – one of the worst, actually. We set our best time on a soft tyre so at least that means we’re making progress in that area, which was a target. We still need to improve more tomorrow though.”
Valentino Rossi: “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 tyres. 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. A strong start is going to be very important and we will have to push hard on the first lap to try to stay close to Stoner, who is always very strong here. Honestly I think it will be tough to beat him but we will try our best!”
Jorge Lorenzo: “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 Edwards: “I made the bike a hundred times better than yesterday. I was really worried after last night that I was going to struggle 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 tyre 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 tyre. I’m a bit more consistent than those in front of me on race tyres, 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.”
Ben Spies: “It wasn’t a good session really and I never got to use the advantage of the soft tyre. 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 tyres. The positive is I did my fastest time on race tyres that had a lot of laps on them. The top four guys are obviously a little bit quicker on hard tyres. But the majority of the people that were quicker than me were on soft tyres, 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 hopefully jump in behind him and go.”
Loris Capirossi: “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: “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 tyres 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.”