MotoGP welcomed a new name to pole position here in France as Colin Edwards (Yamaha) achieved his first top slot in 71 attempts in the premier class. Casey Stoner (Ducati) qualified second fastest and Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V) put himself right back at the business end of the grid with a fine front row performance as third quickest rider.
Carlos CHECA (Honda LCR)
Toni ELIAS (Team Honda Gresini)
The hour-long session began with Stoner at the top of the pile, but it wasn’t long before John Hopkins (Suzuki) stole provisional pole with a time of 1m 34.963s giving riders an early marker to shoot at in settled conditions of a 22-degree ambient temperature and with the track at 32-degrees.
The early order was Hopkins, Edwards, Stoner, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V), Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V), Marco Melandri (Gresini Honda RC212V) and then veteran Alex Barros on a Ducati.
Kawasaki man Randy de Puniet then opted for his usual routine of fitting qualifying rubber early and putting in a hot lap. With 37 minutes to go he hit the pole with a time of 1m 34.837s. He then reduced this further to 1m 34.801s to stay pole as the halfway mark was passed.
Marco Melandri hoisted himself to fourth with a 1m 35.006s time before Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda RC212V) powered to a provisional second fastest time when the Japanese rider recorded a 1m 34.936s time on his seventeenth lap of the session.
At this stage Dani was lying tenth. While more was expected of the Spanish star and his team-mate, the reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden in 11th, Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli (Yamaha) rocketed to pole with a time of 1m 34.716 seconds.
The top four riders were now covered by a mere tenth of a second, the order being Guintoli, Stoner, Hopkins and de Puniet. Then Checa dropped his bombshell, finding form after a difficult season so far. His 1m 34.038s lap stunned pit lane.
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) who had been quietly getting on with race set-up laps then pulled himself up to third in the order and Nicky went fourth fastest while Checa remained at the top of the pile.
Nearly all riders were on qualifying rubber now and it was Checa again who figured at the top reducing his time to 1m 33.859s to go five hundredths of a second faster than Dani’s 2006 qualifying record time. And with seven minutes left Dani was down in 15th place.
As the last desperate laps unfolded, Elias went to fourth fastest, Nicky to fifth and Rossi to second. When Casey Stoner put in a 1m 33.710s lap to snatch pole it looked as if events had rune their course, but that reckoned without Edwards who finally went 0.374 seconds inside Dani’s record to steal pole at the end with a 1m 33.616s time.
Carlos Checa, on the front row in third, said, “We are happy. At the last two races we had problems that we just couldn’t seem to fix. Now, after some changes I can go fast again. My first qualifying tyre was good, the second was good too, but on my third run I hit traffic and couldn’t push as hard as I wanted. But at least we are the right level now. The front row is always my target, but getting the bike right is a bigger achievement this weekend.”Toni Elias (Gresini Honda RC212V) finished the session in sixth on row two and said, “I’m happy to be on the second row. We’ve done a good job and set a good pace and I’ve just to get a good start and hope that the race conditions will be like this and that the weather doesn’t play too much of a part tomorrow.”
Nicky qualified seventh and said, “That’s the best my bike has felt on qualifiers for a while, with the least amount of chatter, and it felt pretty good today. I didn’t get the final section of my best lap perfectly right and I wish I could have got through there a little bit quicker. So it wasn’t a stellar day finishing back in seventh in both sessions but overall I’ve felt better than I have in the last few races and the Michelin tyres seem to be working well too. Also there aren’t any long straights around this circuit so I’m not losing out a whole lot top speed wise.”
“We’ve done some good work on the settings,” said Marco in ninth. “Unfortunately I wasn't able to make the most of the qualifying tyre because I made a mistake on the last lap that cost me a few vital tenths. We’ll keep working in the warm-up tomorrow to improve the feeling with the front, which will be really important to make up positions on the first lap. It will be important to get a good start in the race. The weather looks like it could change so we'll wait until tomorrow before deciding on the tyre.”
Dani heads row four as tenth fastest man. He said, “Today we couldn’t make as much progress in the practice and qualifying sessions. Obviously starting from tenth isn’t really where I want to be and that will make a good start especially important tomorrow. There were a couple of issues with the machine today which cost us some time and then in qualifying I had some traffic in the second section of the lap which meant my time wasn’t as quick as it should have been. It’s a little frustrating, especially as I was on pole position last year, however we have some more options to try in the warm-up tomorrow morning.”
Nakano starts tomorrow’s 28-lap race from 14th on the grid. He said, “This morning we had a good session and did a fast run and then we made some changes to the clutch which helped reduce chatter from the front a little - for a few laps at least. This is our main problem now and with it it’s hard to really push in the corners. The new Michelin front tyres are helping to give me more confidence in the front-end of the bike, which is an improvement. The start here will be vitally important, as will who gets through the first chicane.”
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR212V) troubles continue with a 18th place qualifying effort. The 2000 World Champion said, “Everything’s pretty standard down at our end. I don’t know what’s missing. When I am by myself, everything is to the maximum - pushing the front, trying not to fall down mid-corner, then sliding the rear. Then guys ride round the outside of me like I’m going slow - so I’m not really sure. Hopefully it will rain tomorrow, and change our situation.”
In the 250cc class Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia) set another pole with Julian Simon (Repsol Honda RS250RW) pressing him hard as second fastest man. Hector Barbera qualified third with Thomas Luthi (both Aprilia) completing the front row.
Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Honda RS250RW) managed eighth fastest time for a second row start while Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) slotted into the top ten in tenth overall.
Simon said, “I’m very happy with qualifying. This weekend we have worked very, very hard and the bike is good and I'm pleased with the way we have performed. The only worry I have is the start. Every time I qualify on the front two rows I make a bad start!”
Dovi said, “I’m not satisfied about today’s practice but anyway I’m not down about it. In the afternoon we tried new tyres that were not good for us and tomorrow will not use them in the race. Here the gap between us and Aprilia is less evident but it is still there and today Lorenzo demonstrated that by making a great pace. But if he made it we can also, and tomorrow we will try to recover the difference.”
Mattia Pasini (Aprilia) notched up his fourth pole position of the season so far in the 125cc class with Honda’s Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R) hot on his heels as second fastest qualifier. Tommy Koyama (KTM) was third fastest and Hector Faubel (Aprilia) completes the front row.
Gabor Talmacsi (Aprilia) headed the order early in the half-hour session, but at the halfway point it was series points leader Lukas Pesek (Derbi) who lead the field before Pasini recorded a 1m 43.820s lap to go pole.
With seven minutes left home hope Mike di Meglio (Scot Honda RS125R) moved up to fifth with Smith lying third before the young British rider sped to the second fastest time with just four minutes left.
But his 1m 43.569s time proved good enough for the front row and he will be itching to get on the grid for tomorrow’s 24-lap race. This is his first front row start and after two races where he has figured among the leading group of riders and this qualifying result is another big advance for Bradley.
He said, “Starting from the front row is obviously a big advantage and if I can make a similar start to the race in China I have a great chance of a really good result. It’s very important to get away with those top guys. The Honda is not the fastest on top speed but the rest of the package and especially getting out of the corners is very good.”
His team-mate Esteve Rabat (Repsol Honda RS125R) fell heavily yesterday and will not ride tomorrow after injuring both his chest and left hand.
Di Meglio who ended up tenth fastest for a third row start said, “At the beginning of the session there was traffic on track and I wasn’t able to make a better lap time. Anyway I’m satisfied, I have a good pace and a good feeling with my bike and with the settings, so tomorrow I’ll be able to give my best.”
Nicky HAYDEN (Repsol Honda Team)
Marco MELANDRI (Team Honda Gresini)
Carlos Checa, LCR Honda: 3rd.
"This is a very important front row, especially at this track, and I feel I am ready to fight for a strong result in the race. Plus I have a very good pace on race tyres. When I set my fastest time on my first set of qualifying tyres I thought, OK, I want to fight for pole, but then on my final run I hit traffic and then lost the front end in turn four because the brakes and tyres were cold. I feel this pace and position should be normal for us, but it has not been possible to have the speed show this at the past two races."
Toni Elias, Gresini Honda: 6th.
"I'm happy to be on the second row - this was our objective. We've done a good job over the last two days of practice. This morning I set a good pace but the situation was a little more complicated when the temperature rose in the afternoon. Hopefully the conditions for the race tomorrow are similar to this morning and I can get a good start and fight with the lead group."
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 7th.
"That's the best my bike has felt on qualifiers for a while, with the least amount of chatter, and it felt pretty good today. I didn't get the final section of my best lap perfectly right and I wish I could have got through there a little bit quicker. So it wasn't a stellar day finishing back in seventh in both sessions but overall I've felt better than I have in the last few races and the Michelin tyres seem to be working well too. Also there aren't any long straights around this circuit so I'm not losing out a whole lot top speed wise. My team came up with a few ideas, which we tried today and that helped me get a better feeling - so the key thing will be selecting the right race tyre. I'll try to get an awesome start and fight like a dog tomorrow - it's pretty simple really. Back there on the third row it could get ugly in Turn One because it's really tight here. And the weather tomorrow could go either way so we'll see what we get. I'm definitely looking forward to this race."
Marco Melandri, Gresini Honda: 9th.
"We' ve been working mainly on the race setting and I have to say that my pace is quite good. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make the most of the qualifying tyre because I made a mistake on the last lap that cost me a few vital tenths. We'll keep working in the warm-up tomorrow to improve the feeling with the front, which will be really important to make up positions from the first lap. It will be important to get a good start in the race. The weather looks like it could change so we'll wait until tomorrow before deciding on the tyre."
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 10th.
"Yesterday went pretty well here but today we couldn't make as much progress in the practice and qualifying sessions. Obviously starting from tenth isn't really where I want to be and will make a good start especially important tomorrow. There were a couple of issues with the machine today which cost us some time and then in qualifying I had some traffic in the second section of the lap which meant my time wasn't as quick as it should have been. It's a little frustrating, especially as I was on pole position last year, however we have some more options to try in the warm-up tomorrow morning. We'll look at the information from today and work with Michelin tonight to make the decision on the race tyre. I certainly need to get off the line quickly tomorrow and hopefully make up some places quickly."
Shinya Nakano, Konica Minolta Honda: 14th.
"This morning we had a good session and did a fast run and then we made some changes to the clutch which helped reduce chatter from the front a little - for a few laps at least. This is our main problem now and with it it's hard to really push in the corners. The new Michelin front tyres are helping to give me more confidence in the front-end of the bike, which is an improvement. Our tyre choice for the race is decided, but in the morning tomorrow we will make some changes to the front suspension to see if we can reduce chatter still further. I don't give up - the start here will be vitally important, as will who gets through the first chicane."
Kenny Roberts Jnr, KR212V: 18th.
"Everything's pretty standard down at our end. I don't know what's missing. When I am by myself, everything is to the maximum pushing the front, trying not to fall down mid-corner, then sliding the rear and wheelying and doing all the stuff you do to go fast then guys ride round the outside of me like I'm going slow - so I'm not really sure. Hopefully it will rain tomorrow, and change our situation."
Chuck Aksland: Team Manager Team Roberts.
"It's not where we want to be, but it seems the rule changes affect small independent teams doing what we do the most. The engine development is in Honda's hands. We have one rider and we're trying to compare chassis, compare tyres. These are areas where it's possible to lose your way, or not have the correct direction, just because there's nothing really to compare against. The other satellite Honda teams at least start on the same bikes, and they have information amongst themselves. Our bike is completely different, and it has different reaction to the same tyres. It's taking a while to figure it out, but we'll keep working on it."
Julian Simon, Repsol Honda: 2nd.
"It's been quite a positive practice. The whole team has been helping me to improve the bike and set it as good as possible. And the truth is that we managed to find a good set-up. There are still a few details to fix in some of the corners to be able to gain some time, but I have a good pace and I'm happy. I really hope to make a god start tomorrow, to stay with the tope group and to hold on. I hope to be able to fight for the podium, that's basically the aim, because I'm always being good in practices, so I think that I'm able to do it in the race as well."
Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Honda: 8th.
"I'm not satisfied about today's practice but anyway I'm not down about it. In the afternoon we tried new tyres that were not good for us and tomorrow will not use them in the race. Here the gap between us and Aprilia is less evident but it is still there and today Lorenzo demonstrated that by making a great pace. But if he made it we can also and tomorrow we will try to recover the difference."
Shuhei Aoyama, Repsol Honda: 12th.
"The last time I went onto the track to try to make a fast lap I made a mistake at the end of the back straight. I braked too late and entered too fast. Anyway, I managed to improve my lap time and to feel more comfortable on the bike, although there are a few problems we still have to fix. The gap to the faster riders is big, but I hope to improve that tomorrow morning to get a better place in the race."
Eugene Laverty, LCR Honda: 19th.
"I am really happy. I tried a different Dunlop front tyre this morning and combined with a better front-end set up for braking I made a big step. It's tight and narrow here, I need a good start but I aim to score points."
Ratthapark Wilairot, Thai Honda PTT-SAG: 20th.
"I believe things could have gone better, I was expecting to improve my fastest time by much more. The truth is I never felt totally comfortable with the bike and I'm sure that the crash I suffered in free practice session has something to do with it. However, I believe I can maintain a good pace in race trim and I hope I can make a good start so I can quickly move up within the top 15 places."
Yukio Katayama, Scot Honda
Takahashi will not contest the French GP due to injuries sustained at the GP of Turkey.
Bradley Smith, Repsol Honda: 2nd.
"I was second fastest in qualifying so I'm obviously very happy. I'm only four tenths behind the fastest time, which is the closest I've ever been in a timed session. There will be nobody in front of me tomorrow during the start, which is positive. I'll only need to make a good start and to be careful in the first corner, because it's a bit hard. I hope not to have any problem and to find the way to stay in the lead group. We have a long race ahead, 24 laps, and we'll try to stay among the leading riders. Let's see what happens."
Mike di Meglio, Scot Honda: 10th.
"At beginning of the session there was traffic on track and I wasn't able to make a better lap time. After the stop for tyres changes I followed Gadea's trail and I and set my best lap time. I had a little problem with the bike when I was riding alone and that forced me to go straight on at one point and I lost important seconds. Anyway I'm satisfied, I have a good pace and a good feeling with my bike and with the settings, so tomorrow I'll be able to give my best."
Alexis Masbou, FFM Honda: 11th.
"We modified our way of working during practice. During the previous races I was tense at the beginning of the session, I was trying too hard at first and was unable to make regular progress. Here, given the inevitable pressure when you're racing in front of your home crowd, I tried to relax as much as I could and to progress in an efficient and constant manner. I'm both happy because this is my best result so far this season in practice, and frustrated because I know I could have qualified on the second row of the starting grid. For the race tomorrow I must have an excellent start once again, in order to gain a few places in the opening lap. It should be complicated, especially in the kink before the first chicane ! All the riders can win positions there, its going to be wild!"
Dino Lombardi, Scot Honda: 23rd.
“The bike has improved and also my performance, consequently. I'm quite satisfied, also if when I was following the group in order to make a better lap time, but Iannone out braked me and forced me to go wide. We have some little problems with the rear suspension but session after session we are improving a lot and I hope tomorrow to put in a good performance."
Joey Litjens, Molenaar Honda: 30th.
"I'm not really satisfied with qualifying. I found a good tow but the group I was in was not the fastest and I set my best time while running alone. 1 set a 1.46.7n lap time but really needed a high 1.45. The bike is good, engine power and handling - it's just me that needs to improve."
Danny Webb, Molenaar Honda: 32nd.
"I'm really disappointed with my performance today, I was trying too hard and not riding freely. The team have been working with me to make me more relaxed but then I go slower. The bike is running really well, engine, chassis, tyres everything. I am also experiencing some pain from my left wrist that I injured in Turkey. I cannot use the clutch as I need to. I went to the Doctor for treatment after training and it's a little better.