|In fresh, blustery conditions in southern Spain Team MoviStar riders Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri both secured front row starts on their Honda RC211Vs in second and third positions behind pole-setter Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) for the opening race of the 2005 season.
Sete GIBERNAU (Team Movistar Honda MotoGP)
Marco MELANDORI, Sete GIBERNAU (Team Movistar Honda MotoGP)
Gusting wind played havoc in this single timed hour-log session and although Gibernau had been dominant in all three free practice sessions, yesterday and this morning, he had no answer to Rossi's 1m 39.419 second lap. The Spaniard is 0.496 seconds slower, but knows that a front row start will keep him in touch come tomorrow's race.
Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) moved up to fourth fastest with 15 minutes of the session gone, but the veteran Brazilian couldn't capitalise on his efforts and had to be content with eighth and a third row start.
Perhaps the most encouraging display was from new Honda recruit Marco Melandri (Team MoviStar Honda RC211V) who secured his first front row start in his first race on an RC211V. The Italian is clearly a rejuvenated rider after his switch to Honda this season.
Loris Capirossi (Ducati) was caught out by the conditions early in the session and after a visit to the gravel at the end of the back straight he managed to recover momentum later in the hour and qualify sixth on the second row.
Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) became a short-lived pole holder with a 1m 41.005 second lap just before the halfway stage before Gibernau turned in a 1m 40.691 second lap to go pole again and steal the Japanese rider's brief moment of glory.
At the halfway stage the order
was Gibernau, Nicky Hayden (Repsol
Honda RC211V), Nakano, Rossi,
Troy Bayliss (Camel Honda RC211V)
and Carlos Checa (Ducati). Max
Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) was
struggling to make any progress
and eventually had to settle for
16th while Makoto Tamada (KONICA
MINOLTA Honda RC211V) who was
fourth fastest at the mid-point
ended up seventh after a fall.
Hayden's 1m 40.465 second time was good enough for provisional pole with ten minutes to go, but Rossi upped the pace to record the first ever sub-1m 40 second lap of the 4.423km track to snatch the initiative in this key opening encounter. But Gibernau's response of a 1m 39.915 second lap shows the Spaniard is in contention here.
"We did a pretty good job," said Gibernau. "We're working hard for what looks like it's going to be a long, hard season. The race is going to be very hard on tyres and it will certainly be a great show for the crowd. We should have a consistent race pace for tomorrow."
Melandri was delighted with his front row start. "This is a wonderful day for my first race with Honda and now the dream has become a reality. Things look very positive for the race although it will be hard to follow Rossi and Sete. Honda and Michelin have worked very hard to get me here and I'm really looking forward to the race."
Nicky wanted more but settled for fourth. "Fourth isn't the end of the world," he said. "Although I'd have liked to have been on the front row. I'm not making excuses but I made some little mistakes into some of the fast turns, but I feel good about the set-up and I can't wait to get a good start and mix it with the boys. It's all coming together and I can't wait."
Tamada is upbeat about tomorrow's race, which he starts from row three. "The set-up was better today and the trouble I had in the entrance to some turns is almost solved. Unfortunately on my first lap on qualifying tyres, the wind caught me out at turn six and I ran off track, but despite this setback I'm ready to race tomorrow and fight for a win."
Barros said, "We tried to change the front-end set-up but without success. We went back to a previous setting but it's still not as good as I would like. We're about half a second off the pace and that's not good enough. I'll have to fight my way to the front tomorrow so we come away with a good result. But the tyres should be okay for the race - so I'm ready."
"I'm relatively happy," said Bayliss. "The third row isn't bad. We've improved, but the guys at the front have set a very fast pace and it'll be important to get a good start tomorrow. We've got a couple of things to try in the warm-up - nothing major, just small adjustments, so I'm looking forward to a good race."
Max, in 16th, is more than disappointed. "The lap times tell the story," he said. "Either with race rubber or qualifiers on it made no difference in these conditions. But I'll be pushing to my best for everybody in the race."
In the 250cc category it was reigning World Champion Dani Pedrosa (Team MoviStar Honda RS250RW) who laid down the marker for his rivals with a stunning lap of 1m 42.868 seconds in the final minute of the session. Sebastian Porto qualified second with Casey Stoner third and Randy de Puniet completing the front row in fourth (all Aprilia).
Again wind was the determining factor in the session and several riders fell in the opening minutes caught out either by gusts themselves or dirt blown onto the track.
With twenty minutes of the session to go, the order was as it had been yesterday with Pedrosa on provisional pole, Porto second, with Stoner and de Puniet in the running. Pedrosa's team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama (Team MoviStar Honda RS250RW) was fifth until Alex de Angelis (Aprilia) displaced him to sixth.
Hector Barbera (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) qualified on row two for his debut 250cc race with his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) one row behind in ninth.
Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Racing Team Honda RS250RW), the reigning 125cc World Champion, will start his maiden 250cc race from tenth on row three with his team-mate Yuki Takahashi (Scot Racing Team Honda RS250RW) alongside him in 11th.
"It's been a good weekend so far," said Dani. "We did well here testing in the winter and had a good set-up. The Honda is really fast this year and although the wind was bad and the track a bit dirty, the MotoGP qualifying session before ours helped clean the track a bit."
Aoyama said, "The conditions were terrible. It's amazing how Dani managed to improve his time. I came in to change a front tyre, but the new one didn't feel any better and I came back in to change to the original one - and lost my rhythm."
Italian Marco Simoncelli (Aprilia) secured the opening pole position of the season in the 125cc class. He fell heavily in the opening minutes of today's final half-hour of timed qualifying, but his Friday time of 1m 46.996 seconds proved unbeatable today. Mattia Pasini (Aprilia) qualified second with a rejuvenated Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) third and Fabrizio Lai (Kopron Racing World Honda RS125RW) completing the front row as fourth fastest rider.
Lai was one of only two riders in the top ten to improve on his time from Friday. The Italian shaved just over four tenths of a second off his previous best lap time to record a 1m 47.873 second time to make the front row of the grid, while Tomoyoshi Koyama (Ajo Motorsport Honda RS125R) was another improver who qualified in tenth place on row three.
Alvaro Bautista (Seedorf Racing Honda RS125RW) suffered in the windy conditions and could only manage 20th position and a fifth row start. Mike Di Meglio (Kopron Racing World Honda RS125R) starts on row four as 16th fastest qualifier.
"The wind was too strong from the opening lap," said Luthi, who managed to save a lurid front-end slide early in the session. "It was impossible to try for fast laps so I just concentrated on improving set-up. But the engine was very strong and that's encouraging."
Lai echoed Luthi's assessment. "The wind made things very hard," he said. "There was sand blown onto the track and things were definitely better yesterday. We have a fabulous set-up and I was fastest in that session."
Nicky HAYDEN (Repsol Honda Team)
Makoto TAMADA (KONICA MINOLTA Honda Team)
Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda MotoGP team: 2nd:
"I feel prepared for the race,ready to give it everything after the good work we have done in practice this weekend. On my flying lap with the soft tyre I ran into a bit of traffic and, as everybody knows, even the slightest thing can cost you the perfect lap time at this level. Despite all that the race is what really counts and in that sense my pace is good. I'm ready and I hope the people enjoy themselves tomorrow."
Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda MotoGP team: 3rd:
"To be starting my first Grand Prix with Honda and the team from the front row of the grid is incredible - it's almost as if I'm dreaming. I'm really happy because I've enjoyed myself riding the bike today in qualifying. I don't think I'll be able to follow Valentino and Sete in the race tomorrow but I'll do my best."
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team: 4th:
"Fourth isn't the end of the world. Obviously I'd have liked to be on the front row after having been there all weekend. I made a little mistake in the second qualifying run when I ran into some traffic but I'm not making excuses. It was really windy out there and pretty challenging on some of the fast corners. I feel good about the set-up of the bike. I just want to get a good start and mix it with the boys - we're all in the ring together. I can't wait. The atmosphere here is unreal. It's gonna' be a good show tomorrow for sure!"
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda Team: 7th:
"Today the setting of the bike has got much better and allowed me to conquer a satisfying seventh place for tomorrow's starting grid. The problems I had yesterday with the rear part of the bike while in breaking and in the entrance in the turns have been almost completely solved, while on the front part of the bike we still have to make some modifications to be at our best tomorrow afternoon. The thing that makes me the saddest is that during my first lap with qualifying tyres, while I was entering in the turn number 6, the wind blew me out of the track and therefore the bike got dirty and I had to enter the box. Despite this little problems I'm anyway satisfy of the position that I have conquered which will allow me to fight for the place that I aspire."
Alex Barros, Camel Honda: 8th:
"Compared with the tests here two weeks ago the conditions have changed quite a lot and the difference is notable on the track. It was windy this afternoon, it was cold and that made it harder to ride than at the tests. We tried to change the set-up accordingly this morning but without too much success. In the afternoon we went back to a fork setting that worked better although it is still not as good as I would like. We're about half a second off the pace and that isn't satisfactory. Anyway, this is the best set-up we have found and I'll have to try and fight my way to the front tomorrow so that we can take home a good result. As far as the tyres are concerned we don't have a problem - I'm ready for the race."
Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda: 9th:
" I'm relatively happy - the third row of the grid isn't bad. We've improved but the guys at the front have set a very fast pace and it will be important to get a good start tomorrow. We've got a couple of things to try in the warm-up - nothing major, just small adjustments. I'm not really thinking about that though, just looking forward to a good race."
Max Biaggi. Repsol Honda Team: 16th:
" How did it go? The lap times tell: 16th time, only three riders behind me today. I've never done any worse than that in my entire life, not even at my first race in the Sport Production, back in 1989. The result tells that there is a huge mystery. I know I drove to the limit and I have the skill to claim that more than this was not possible. Racing tires, soft tires or qualifying tires made no differences in this condition. Cornering, in and out, turned again to the nightmare I had here at last IRTA test. I'm very disappointed and I feel sorry especially for my supporters. Also for them I will keep on pushing it to my best until the last lap. Hoping that, sooner or later, this terrible dream will come to an end."
Dani Pedrosa, Movistar Telefonica Honda: 1st:
"We tested well at this circuit during the winter and the bike is ready to race. Looking at things today I'm sure it's going to be very tough. There are a lot of people out there who want to beat me at any cost and I'm also going out to win, so it should be an intense and difficult first round, no doubt. It will be good if it's not as windy tomorrow as it was today, but we're ready. I'm not too keen on this circuit but I'd love to put things right in front of my home fans and produce a great race."
Hiroshi Aoyama, Movistar Telefonica Honda: 6th:
"We tested a new front tyre today and I didn't feel too comfortable with it. My pace was a little slower than yesterday and I didn't manage to improve my fastest lap, but I don't think there is a huge gap and I'm hopeful of following the pace of the lead group in the race tomorrow."
Hector Barbera, Fortuna Honda: 7th:
" It was hard for me to ride comfortably this afternoon. I felt better yesterday. I'm sure this was down to the strong winds which have battered the circuit all day though. It's difficult to enter the corners at certain places around this track, mostly because it is hard to feel the front end of the bike. Although I was able to improve my time at the end of the session, I am certain that in any other conditions I would have been able to do even better. I can't wait for the first race too start now."
Jorge Lorenzo, Fortuna Honda: 9th:
" There was a lot of traffic ahead of me when I decided to push a bit harder. If it hadn't been like that I feel that I wouldn't have had problems to ride at 1.43. Feeling sorry about that doesn't help though. Tomorrow I will try to do my level best. I'm sure it will be a very exciting race."
Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Racing Honda 250: 10th:
" I don't like this circuit but I'm happy because the feeling with my Honda is getting better. I start from the third row tomorrow but and it will be difficult keep the same pace as the leaders, it is very important I make a good start."
Yuki Takahashi, Scot Racing Honda 250: 11th:
" I am quite happy because the bike has improved from this morning and I have used the tyres. I will race with tomorrow. It was very windy today and the track was very dirty. But we had god tests here at Jerez so I know the track and I am looking forward to my first race in Europe."
Alex Debon, Wurth Honda BQR: 14th:
" The time is not so bad, it's good I'm the second kit bike on the grid. We found a really good set up today. The engine for this year is very good and we have a very good balance between engine power and the chassis set up. If I get a good start we will have a good race, I am aiming to finish in the top ten."
Jakub Smrz, Molenaar Honda: 15th:
" I'm reasonably happy with qualifying, the bike was really good, much better than I thought it would be after testing here recently. The team have made big improvements, particularly big steps with the frame. The only small problems lay with the rider but he will be OK tomorrow."
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda: 3rd:
"Today the wind was too strong to get in a fast lap. I tried it when I first went out but I saw it was impossible and concentrated on finding an improved set up. The new bike is perfect, the engine is very strong, and Sepp Schlogl is working with us. You could say I'm really happy and ready for the race."
Fabrizio Lai, Kopron Racing World Honda: 4th:
" The wind was too hard today and brought a lot of sand onto the surface. The track condition was much better yesterday, now its about a second slower but I managed to be fastest in session. I'm beginning to feel much more comfortable on the bike. Acceleration is better and we have found a good set up for the chassis. The only worry I have is the rear tyre."
Tomoyoshi Koyama, Ajo Motorsport Honda: 10th:
" I have tested at Jerez twice this winter and I know the track quite well now. I like it especially the fast corners. The engine has good power and the chassis set up is good for the track so I am happy and looking forward to the race."
Alvaro Bautista, Seedorf RC3 Honda: 20th:
" Things are a little difficult at the moment. We were not so fast yesterday and change set up but went in the wrong direction. We changed to original setting for the final session but with the track conditions we could not improve. Still I am learning a lot about the new bike, we are confident about the season."