In only his second ever MotoGP qualifying, class rookie Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) rode rampant here in the burning desert heat to notch his first pole position in MotoGP on a 990cc machine. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) was second fastest with another red-hot Honda rookie Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V) completing the front row in third.
Casey STONER(Honda LCR)
Toni ELIAS(Fortuna Honda)
Despite a bout of flu and airline mishaps that prevented the young Aussie from arriving at the Losail track until the morning of first free practice yesterday, Casey showed just how quickly he has adapted to the big bikes by being fastest in that initial hour-long session.
And he kept up the momentum by heading the final free training timesheet this morning too. Few, however, expected him to maintain station at the top of the charts today. But Stoner's astonishing time of 1m 55.683 seconds showed just how rapidly he has adapted to the step up in class from 250cc racing.
With a track temperature of 45 degrees at this sun-baked circuit, conditions were punishing for both riders and machinery and Stoner was flying from the off, heading the field until Capirossi put in a 1m 56.187s lap at the midway point.
At the halfway mark the order was Capirossi, Stoner, Colin Edwards (Yamaha), Sete Gibernau (Ducati), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V), Elias, Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and then Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V), in eighth overall.
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V), who had been fastest in the second of the free training sessions, couldn't quite find the speed to up his pace for this timed hour, and starts from row four as tenth fastest man. The American former World Champion will draw some encouragement from this performance.
Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V), who finished last season so strongly, has been struggling to find form so far in 2006 and his 12th place on the grid will not please him. Of more concern perhaps is Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V), way down in 16th place and 2.208 seconds shy of the pole time.
It looked as if Capirossi would be the man to beat here when he punched in a time of 1m 56.683 seconds with 15 minutes left on the clock. That was the fastest ever lap of this ribbon of asphalt in a sea of sand before Casey blew it away with his 1m 55.683s time - four tenths of a second faster.
Questions remain about who will have the better race set-up for what promises to be a grueling 22-laps tomorrow in much the same conditions. Stoner has won here on a 250, Capirossi qualified on pole here in 2005. But the dark horse is perhaps Elias third on the front row.
Although he hasn't made the headlines yet, like Dani, second at Jerez, and Casey on pole here, Toni has shown a precocious consistency so far with a fighting fourth in Spain and now a front row start here in Qatar. Whatever transpires tomorrow, Honda has shown it has the riding talent to triumph.
Cool-headed Stoner, now the second youngest pole man in premier class history next to Freddie Spencer, said, "I expected it to take two years to get a pole - not two races. The LCR team has given me a bike with strong set-up since first practice. And this afternoon it was a case of just bolting in the qualifiers and going for a lap. But when I saw the other riders attacking the time I was sure they'd be faster. I'm still a bit weak from the flu so this a big relief."
"I am very satisfied," said an enthusiastic Elias. "I want to thank my team and the Michelin mechanics for the great job they've done. We worked very well today, but it is going to be a difficult race tomorrow as a lot of riders are going quick and the tires are sure to suffer because of the heat. The most important thing will be to get a good start."
Hard-riding Hayden, in fourth, said, "In race trim it's been a little frustrating. We can make the bike better in one area, like getting into the corner, and then it's not so good coming out. Luckily I've got a lot of sharp people around here working hard, so it's not for a lack of effort - or a lack of brains! Tomorrow's race day, we'll try and sweeten it up overnight, arrive in the morning with the race face on and be ready to go for it when the lights go out."
Dani, next to his team-mate on row two, said, "The most important thing now is to try to get a good start and get a good position into the first corner - this is very important. The qualifying session was difficult for me again. We improved a little, but I still have to learn many things about qualifying: the timing, how to make the most of a qualifying tire and to decide which front I prefer for a track."
Kenny Roberts said, "I'm much more comfortable on race tires than on qualifiers. For me it's not really too big a problem to start from 10th. I need a good start to avoid the jam at the first turn, then I can get settled. I should have a better race finish than where we are now, that's for sure."
"The bike is working well and I feel comfortable on it so I'm disappointed," said a dejected Melandri. "Tomorrow I have to make a good start - it won't be easy from the fourth row of the grid and overtaking on this circuit is quite tricky. It's a shame because this is a circuit I like a lot.
Things look trying for Tamada way down in 16th. He said, "We can't yet solve the problem I have with the front contact feeling in entering the corners. Tomorrow morning, together with the team technicians, we'll try what we can. But I can't stand finding myself so far from the top riders after the qualifying session of the second Grand Prix of the season."
In the 250cc class, Jorge Lorenzo claimed pole again after his win from pole in Spain. His team-mate Hector Barbera lines up alongside him as second fastest qualifier, with old stager Roberto Locatelli third fastest and Alex de Angelis completing the front row in fourth (all Aprilia).
With no Honda riders on the front row, encouragement of sorts can be found in the performance of Sebastian Porto (Repsol Honda RS250RW), fifth fastest qualifier. The Argentine had a wretched time in Spain and this performance represents a vast improvement on a Jerez nightmare he will be eager to forget.
Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) qualified sixth fastest and the Italian man will know that he has a good chance of making that decent grid position count. He started from 11th at Jerez and finished third and with a fine-tuned race set-up tomorrow he might well be able to improve on that third.
Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) qualified 11th and rookie Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) will start tomorrow's 20-lap race from 16th on the grid on row four.
Porto said, "The Aprilias have been showing that they are more competitive during the practices, so it's difficult to beat them there, but the race is something different. There are going to be many laps to cover, it's going to be really hot and we are betting on the Honda's reliability. Let's hope that everything works well and that we have made the right choices."
Dovi said, "I knew it would be hard achieving the front row today because I'm still not able to take full advantage of soft tires. The situation is definitely better with harder tires for the race - my pace is good and I think I can do well tomorrow."
"It has been a very tough day," said Takahashi. "We haven't found the right suspension set-up yet. Yesterday, we found a good tire for the race and I thought we could fix the bike as well today. But it didn't happen and now we have to analyze the data and make an important change for tomorrow's warm-up."
A frustrated and self-critical Aoyama said, "I'm not at all happy with the result and the grid position. This circuit is more difficult than I initially thought. We need to improve the behavior of the bike further, but it's the rider who has to do things much better here, because I'm not riding very well on this circuit yet. It's not something specific I'm doing wrong but I have to be better in the fast areas, in the slow corners, and entering and exiting the corners."
The final half-hour of 125cc qualifying belonged to Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) who secured pole with a best lap time of 2m 07.453 seconds. His team-mate Mattia Pasini, who had been fastest in the three untimed practice sessions, was the second fastest qualifier. Mika Kallio (KTM) lines up in third with Sergio Gadea (Aprilia) fourth fastest.
The times are typically tight in this class with less than one second covering the top 11 qualifiers. And Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R), the best of the Honda-mounted qualifiers on row two as sixth fastest man, recorded a time of 2m 07.877s - only four tenths of a second away from the top time.
Reigning World Champion Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) qualified in 15th spot, 1.382 seconds off the pole time. He is still hampered by a large gash on his foot, and to a lesser extent now by the broken collarbone he sustained in pre-season training.
"I have a very good feeling with the bike at this track," said Luthi. "The engine is good and we know what we have to do to the chassis for the race. I have to work on myself too. The grid position is not so good but the gaps between the riders ahead of me are small."
Talmacsi said, "I thought I could do even better on the 'hot' lap, but in the final stages of the session, when I tried to push harder, the front started sliding a bit and also I was slowed down by another rider. Anyway, second row is a good result and in tomorrow's warm-up we are going to make some adjustments so we can lap at a more constant pace. We are going in the right direction."
Nicky HAYDEN(Repsol Honda Team)
Sebastian PORTO(Repsol Honda)
Casey Stoner, LCR Honda:1st:
"I expected it to take a couple of years to be up here on pole position, not in just my second race. But the LCR team
have worked perfectly and I have a very strong set-up since first practice and this afternoon it was just a matter of bolting on the qualifying tires and doing the lap. When I saw the gap closing and the other riders challenging I thought I couldn't keep pole and I would have been happy with a place in the top six. I'm still tired and weak from the flu and all the travel problems so this is a big relief - - it's an amazing feeling to be on pole."
Toni Elias, Fortuna Honda:3rd:
"I am very satisfied. I want to thank my team and the Michelin mechanics for the great job they have done. We worked very well today, but it is going to be a difficult race tomorrow as a lot of riders are going quick and the tires are sure to disintegrate because of the heat. The most important thing will be to get a good start. This is my first front row start of the season and I hope to continue this kind of form. I also want to thank the Clinical Mobile who have helped me over gastroenteritis and I am looking forward to the race."
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda:4th:
"Man, it's close! It's kind of frustrating to be that close but still be so far away because actually a tenth in qualifying is a lot. But I'm looking forward to the race - it should be fun. The Michelin qualifying tires definitely help my like. Right now my issues are with grip, but when we put the qualifying tire in we're one tenth off pole. In race trim it's been a little frustrating. We can make the bike better in one area, like getting into the corner, and then it's not so good coming out. Luckily I've got a lot of sharp people around here working hard, so it's not for a lack of effort - or a lack of brains! Tomorrow's race day, we'll try and sweeten it up overnight, arrive in the morning with the race face on and be ready to go for it when the lights go out. On the practice starts I had some problems with the clutch and the bike reared up. I thought it was me so I tried to do another one and I felt like a goon when it did the same thing! The team will get it sorted though!."
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda:5th:
"My grid position here is the same as Jerez which is not too bad because that was a track I know well and we tested there for three days before the race. But this track is new to me on this bike, so I think 5th is ok. I feel quite good for the race. The most important thing now is to try to get a good start and get a good position into the first corner - this is very important. The qualifying session was difficult for me again. We improved a little, but I still have to learn many things about qualifying: the timing, how to take the most profit from the qualifying tire and to learn which front tire I prefer for the track. I had crash this morning when I went on the white line and it was very dusty, I touched the brake a little bit and went down. It was my mistake, but now I know about this for the future!"
Kenny Roberts JR, KR Honda:10th:
"We lost a little bit of time at the start of the qualifying session working on details. After that we worked on tire choice for the race When we got into It I felt very comfortable on the bike. I'm much more comfortable on race tires than qualifiers. For me it's not really too big a problem to start from 10th. I need a good start to avoid the jam at the first turn, and then get settled. I will have a better race then where we are now, that's for sure"
Marco Melandri, Fortuna Honda:12th:
"In the morning session I was lapping in the 1'56s on race tires so we ended the session in confident mood. In the afternoon, and with the qualification tires on, things were different and we could not better our time from the morning. The bike is working well and I feel comfortable on it so I'm disappointed. Tomorrow I have to make a good start - it won't be easy from the fourth row of the grid and overtaking on this circuit is quite tricky. It's a shame because this is a circuit I like a lot."
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda:16th:
"Today, the modifications made on the suspensions setting level permitted me to be quicker but not to solve the problem I have with the front contact feeling in entering the corners. Tomorrow morning, together with the KONICA MINOLTA Honda Team technicians, we will try to ameliorate the situation, even if, I could not even imagine to find myself so far from the top riders after the qualifying session of the second GP of the season."
Sebastian Porto, Repsol Honda:5th:
"We've made some changes and we've gone a bit back, but we also managed to improve a bit this afternoon towards the end. The main aspect today was the engine, that didn't work well, it was a bit slower than yesterday. I think that this was the main factor. But I'm calm, we'll have to go back with the settings, to try to have a competitive bike tomorrow again, like the one we had yesterday. It's always different in the race. The Aprilia's have been showing that they are more competitive during the practices, so it's difficult to beat them there, but the race is something different. There are going to be many laps to cover, it's going to be really hot and we are betting on the bike's regularity. Let's hope
that everything works well and that we have made the right choices."
Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Honda:6th:
"I knew it would be hard conquering the front row today because I am still not able to take full advantage of soft tires. Situation is definitely better with hard tires for the race: my pace is good and I think I can do well tomorrow. I'm going to do some test with tires in the warm up and see which one is better for the distance, but generally we are okay. I think it is going to be a tough GP, probably with many riders all together as there are many fast riders. I want to congratulate myself with the top riders as they go very fast with soft tires"
Yuki Takahashi, Scot Honda:11th:
"It has been a very tough day for me today as we haven't found the right
set up of the suspensions. Yesterday, we found the tire for the race and I
thought we could fix the bike as well today. But it didn't happen and, now,
we have to analyze the data and make an important change for tomorrow's warm
up. At the end of the official session, I tried to push with softer tires but
I wasn't confident with the front of the bike and so I couldn't open more the
Shuhei Aoyama, Repsol Honda:16th:
"I'm not at all happy with the result and the grid position. This circuit is more difficult than I initially thought. We need to improve the behavior of the bike further, but it's the rider who has to do things much better here, because I'm not riding very well on this circuit yet. It's not something specific I'm doing wrong but I have to be better in the fast areas, in the slow corners, entering and exiting the corners. I'm in a back position for the start and that was not my plan. My aim for tomorrow is to finish among the top six, although I know that it's going to be difficult."
Arnaud Vincent, Molenaar Honda:19th:
"Not so bad. On the last five - six laps I was hoping to find a fast rider to work with but I didn't so my time was set riding alone. We had some work to do on front fork damping and work on the carburetion and I'm sure we will be OK for the warm up with the new settings."
Arturo Tizon, Wurth Honda BQR:20th:
"I'm not so happy because I couldn't better my time of yesterday while working on tyres for the race. The heat was also a problem for me the suspension settings were not good in the higher temperatures as they were yesterday. The engine is strong but we have chassis work to do before the warm up."
Martin Cardenas, Wurth Honda BQR:21st:
"I was going well but started to have an engine problem at high-rpm. I came into the box and we checked it out found nothing but the engine stopped on the next fast lap. No big problem because we have a good engine or the warm up. I think I have a good rhythm for the race, all I need is a good start and try to get to the fast group."
Jordi Carchano, Stop and Go Racing:22nd:
"I have been struggling with quick-shift problems in qualifying causing me to loose time. Coming off the corners I have to roll off the throttle to shift then I get a surge of power so I ended up 22nd on the grid. The engine power is good and the bike works well, apart from the shift problem. I hope we can fix it in the warm up."
Gabor Talmacsi, Humangest Honda:6th:
"Since the first day of practice we have made an important step forward and generally I feel ready for tomorrow's race. Actually, I thought I could do even better in the 'hot' lap, but in the final stages of the official session, when I tried to push harder, the front started sliding a bit and also I was slowed down by a rider. Anyway, second row is a good result and in tomorrow's warm-up we are going to make some adjustments in order to lap with a constant pace. We are in the right direction."
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda:15th:
"My injury is OK while I'm riding the bike, I just had to find another way to ride in some places. We didn't make it to the Jerez test and I crashed in the race so it feels if our season begins here. I have a very good feeling with the bike at this track, the engine is good and we know what we have to do to the chassis for the race. I have to work on myself. The grid position is ot so good but the gaps between the riders ahead of me are small."
Sandro Cortese, Elit Honda:17th:
"This morning we had a few problems, particularly with front end grip. The team fixed that for qualifying and I have good grip and could go for a time but I tried alone and was not fast enough then on the last lap I got with Pasini and Kallio and set my best time. I'm ready for the race."
Fabrizio Lai, Seedorf Racing World:20th:
"When there are engine problems you try to push harder but in this way arise set up limits. Moreover in curves I lose some tenths. For tomorrow we have to improve the set up but the real problem is the lack of development of the Honda engine compared with Aprilia ones."
Mike Di Meglio, FFM Honda:21st:
"I have some problems with rear wheel chattering. The technical staff tried many solutions but the vibration returned late in the qualifying session. We have the warm up session to try another alternative and I hope it works."
Bradley Smith, Repsol Honda:22nd:
"Today was really good in the morning. We tried a hard compound in the rear, that didn't work so well but I improved on my times from the previous qualifying so that was a bonus. This afternoon wasn't so good, it was a little bit hotter, and we still went for another type of tire, but it was pushing on the front and I had a lot of problems, but we got through it and I think I was twenty-second, so I'm happy. It's better than Jerez so it's an improvement and I'm just looking
forward to the race now. It's going to be a long hard race obviously with the conditions as they are but I think I can cope with that. I have to make sure that I push off at the beginning, rather than measuring out during the first few laps and make sure that I can go with the group and then see if I can hang in there. It's definitely going to be hard but I'm looking forward to it."
Aleix Espargaro, Wurth Honda BQR:23st:
"I'm a little angry with my practice and qualifying sessions. Yesterday I crashed and today I had an unbelievable problem, the rod that holds the rear caliper broke - I never heard of that before. I lost ten minutes trying to fix it, that's a lot in a 30-minute session. So I took my second bike to try for a time, that's why I'm so far back. Still I am positive because I know the engine is very strong. We have to work on the chassis because I cannot hold my line in the
corners I am always running wide. Tomorrow I must fight a lot to get to the front group."
Lorenzo Baroni, Humangest Honda:31st:
"This wasn't a very positive day for me and I haven't still found a competitive setting of my Honda. Also, yesterday's crash didn't help me, this is a long and tough track and it takes long time to learn it. Now together with the team I'll try to find a solution during tomorrow morning's warm-up."
Michele Conti, Seedorf Racing World:35th:
"I know very well that I have to learn the track and change my style, too similar to that of the European championship. but it is not easy: there is not much time! I tried to stay with the group to learn how to face curves . it was useful but time went quickly!."
Joey Litjens, Molenaar Honda:36th:
"I'm well over two seconds faster than yesterday so that's good. Jerez was very difficult for me but I have found things much easier here. Now I am much closer to the pack than at Jerez. The bike is really good, all the problems I had at Jerez are fixed. The engine is fast and the chassis works better, so I'm happy."