MotoGP qualifying for the Catalan Grand Prix at Montmelo tomorrow was another high-octane fight for supremacy. Under the Spanish sun it was Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) who came out on top ahead of second fastest Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) and Honda’s main man here Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) completing the front row in third.
Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)
Toni ELIAS (Gresini Honda)
With a 33-degree ambient temperature and the track at a scorching 44-degrees, the hour of timed qualifying for the premier class got underway and Toni Elias (Gresini Honda RC212V) showed early endeavour by topping the lap chart with a 1m 43.277s time.
Dani Pedrosa showed he would be on the pace by turning in a 1m 43.300s time while Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) held third spot. Elias then posted a 1m 43.153s time to establish himself as one of the men to beat here, but the Spanish sensation could not hold onto the top placings as the session wore on.
Casey Stoner, Ducati’s World Championship points leader, then hit pole to relegate Elias to second with Dani Pedrosa lying third, John Hopkins (Suzuki) fourth, Rossi fifth, Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) sixth fastest and reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden seventh in the early order.
Dani had put in a string of ten laps, culminating in a 1m 43.623s time.
At the halfway stage Stoner had reduced his time around the 4.727km of Montmelo to 1m 43.022s and then with 20 minutes left the order remained the same as it had been before the halfway mark. But that would soon change as riders began to pit for short-life/maximum grip qualifying rubber.
True to form it was a Kawasaki man who raised the bar first. Randy de Puniet, riding with a badly swollen knee, sustained in a free training session crash here, managed to overcome the pain and lack of movement (albeit in a specially adapted set of leathers) to set a time of 1m 41.901 seconds that would prove hard to top. His team-mate Olivier Jacque was not riding after crashing heavily and injuring his neck in the morning.
Dani too had crashed spectacularly yesterday but was strong enough to be in the reckoning today. His bike, however, had been smashed to pieces. But it was Vermeulen who was the first to put pressure on de Puniet’s time when he sped to the second fastest time with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Elias then put in a lap 0.8 seconds shy of the de Puniet time to go second, but this was more an indicator of just how tough the French Kawasaki man’s time would be to beat than any demonstration that there would be more to come from the Spanish man with the most spectacular riding style in MotoGP (or anywhere for that matter).
Stoner then moved up to second, 0.7 seconds adrift of the de Puniet time, before Rossi turned in a 1m 41.840s time to deprive de Puniet of pole with eight minutes to go. With seven minutes remaining there was another flurry of pit-stops for the last of the sticky qualifying tyres.
Colin Edwards (Yamaha) moved up to third fastest, Nicky briefly held fourth, before Stoner grabbed third. Then Dani deprived the Australian of that final front row berth. With just one minute remaining de Puniet still held onto second and Dani had his hands on third with his 1m 42.002s time.
There would be no more change. Stoner was consolidated as fourth fastest man, Hopkins fifth, Edwards now sixth, Nicky heading the third row as seventh quickest, with Toni eighth and Marco Melandri (Gresini Honda RC212V) ninth.
Dani Pedrosa said: “I’m happy because it’s been quite a long time since I’ve been on the front row so it’s nice to be back. There are quite a few riders with a good pace from practice though and this means the race could be very close and difficult. Also it looks as though it’s going to be very hot which will make it difficult for the tyres and also the riders. I’m enjoying being at my home Grand Prix with so many supporters and I’m happy to be starting on the front row because this could prove to be important.”
His team-mate Nicky Hayden, seventh on the grid, said: “I was definitely hoping to be on the front two rows today and I just missed out on that. It’s still not as close to the front as we’d like and there haven’t been any big steps forward but we’ve definitely made some progress in a few areas for this track. Tyre choice is going to be really critical so we’ll be looking at that tonight. I know it’s going to be a big job tomorrow and I’ll have to eat my Wheeties!”
Toni, eighth on the grid, said: “I’m happy with my race pace and confident about tomorrow. I’m disappointed to be on the third row and I’ll have to get a good start. But we’ve had two good days of practice working on the race setting. Tomorrow will be a tough fight but I’m ready for it. This is my home race so I wanted to celebrate that with this special livery inspired by Gaudi. I love his mosaics and colour schemes - because they represent Barcelona.”
"We’re moving forward,” said Marco, ninth quickest: “This morning we ran a couple of comparative tests and in the afternoon I only ran the modified chassis that we tried for the first time at Le Mans. The race pace is quite good and after all the problems we’ve had this weekend I’m quite happy with the third row. Tomorrow I'll just try and get a good start and fight for a top result.”
Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda RC212V), who qualified 12th, said: “With the tyres we’ve tested and the setting changes we’ve made the bike felt a little bit better today which is just what we were looking for. The problem we’ve had, with both chatter from the front-end of the bike and the actual getting the bike to turn itself has improved. The conditions were hot again today, but I’m pleased that I was able to improve my lap time and we’ve picked what I think is a good combination of race tyres for tomorrow.”
Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V) managed 15th on the grid, and said: “This morning in free practice I had some confidence that our set-up was improving but with the qualifying tyre it was impossible to do better than this. We have changed everything on the set-up, but when I flick the bike it doesn’t want to turn, the front goes one way and the rear the other, the balance is wrong. I’m still too far from the race pace so hopefully we can find some solutions for tomorrow.”
Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR212V) qualified 18th and his brother Kurtis Roberts (Roberts KR212V) 19th. Kenny said: “As far as the qualifiers go, with the first one I got just a bad feeling from the front right out of the pits and felt like I wasn’t able to put any pressure on it. So when I came in, Warren put more physical weight on the front and it felt fine for the second run.”
Kurtis said: “You’ve got to look at everything in comparison. It's not like we’re that far off. Kenny thought there might be a problem when I went to qualifiers, but there’s nothing we could do about it. I think it’s all heading in the right direction.”
In the 250cc class series points leader Jorge Lorenzo took pole with a 1m 45.098s lap to edge out fierce rival Hector Barbera, Lorenzo’s main Honda rival Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Honda RS250RW) qualified in third place.
Wild card rider Alex Debon was fourth fastest qualifier and class rookie and former World 125cc Champion Thomas Luthi took fifth spot on the grid (all Aprilia).
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda RS250RW) was the 11th fastest qualifier. Julian Simon (Repsol Honda RS250RW) starts from 12th on the grid with Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) 13th heading row four.
An optimistic Dovi said: “In the last qualifying session I made a small riding mistake - I could have been faster but that’s no big problem. I’m happy because my rhythm is good on race tyres. I am not too far off pole and running similar times to Barbera and Debon. I think the race will be between the top four of us and it might be a question of who saves his tyres the best. The difference here in comparison to Mugello is that the Honda chassis is better and my corner exit-speed also.”
His team-mate Takahashi said: “Yesterday I tried the new rear suspension link and I kept it for today’s practice and in qualifying it feels much better than before. The problem is with weight transfer and we need time to improve this. For my final lap time attack I followed a group of riders and considering my body is not yet in top condition I have to be happy with my time.”
For one perfect minute in the 125cc session it looked as if Honda’s Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R) might snatch his first ever pole position in the 125cc class, but the Aprilia trio of Gabor Talmacsi, Hector Faubel and Sergio Gadea managed to displace the British rider in the final minute of this final half-hour timed session.
Lukas Pesek (Derbi) was the fastest man until with five minutes remaining the rest of the field upped the pace to a level he could not live with. Smith went second fastest and then hit pole with a 1m 50.806s lap, but did not have enough tyre grip left to improve on that.
It was then that the Aprilia mob pounced with the verdict going to Talmacsi by virtue of a 1m 50.012 second lap. Smith is seven tenths of a second short of that time, but showed enough speed in the session to suggest that he could well prove a factor in tomorrow’s 22-lap race.
Smith said: “I’m pleased especially after the problems we had yesterday but I must make a good start and stay with the leaders in those first few laps,” explained Smith, who finished third in the French Grand Prix, three weeks ago. My pace has been good today and I put in some really consistent laps and I really want to produce a good result for my team at their home track.”
His team-mate Esteve Rabat (Repsol Honda RS125R), still recovering from injury qualified 12th while Mike di Meglio (Scot Honda RS125R) qualified 16th and said: “Today I had some chatter problems with new tyres, the bike was loose at the rear and it was very hard to keep control and make a good lap time. Now we have to work to solve this situation in order to have a good warm-up tomorrow and recover some positions.”
Dino Lombardi (Scot Honda RS125R) crashed heavily in this final session and broke his left ankle. He will not ride tomorrow and faces an operation to repair the damage.
Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Kopron Scot Honda)
Yuki TAKAHASHI (Kopron Scot Honda)
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 3rd.
"I'm happy because it's been quite a long time since I've been on the front row so it's nice to be back. The practice sessions have gone pretty well and my set-up and race tyres look OK so I'm hopeful for tomorrow. There a quite a few riders with a good pace from practice though and this means the race could be very close and difficult for sure. Also it looks as though it's going to be very hot which will make it difficult for the tyres and also the riders. I'm enjoying being at my home Grand Prix with so many supporters and I'm happy to be starting on the front row because this could prove to be important. We saw last year that anything can happen at the first corner here but hopefully there will be no problems and we can have a great race and get the result we want. Finally, I'd like to thank my mechanics because they worked very late last night after my crash.”"
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda: 7th.
"I was definitely hoping to be on the front two rows today and I just missed out on that. Nevertheless thanks to the guys in my team because they've done a good job and had a few really useful ideas this weekend. As the weekend's progressed we've moved up a couple of tenths on race tyres in every session and also moved up a couple of positions in each session. It's still not as close to the front as we'd like and there hasn't been any big steps forward but we've definitely made some progress in a few areas for this track. Tyre choice is going to be really critical so we'll be looking at that tonight. I know it's going to be a big job tomorrow and I'll have to eat my Wheeties! Hopefully I can find a few more tenths and try to get a decent start and hang with the boys as best I can tomorrow."
Toni Elias, Gresini Honda: 8th.
“I'm happy with my race pace and confident about tomorrow. I'm disappointed to be on the third row and I'll have to get a good start but we've had two good days of practice working on the race setting. Tomorrow will be a tough fight but I'm ready for it. This is my home race so I wanted to celebrate that with a special livery inspired by Gaudi. I love his mosaics and colour schemes - especially because they represent Barcelona around the world - and Aldo Drudi came up with a lovely design. I'm sure the fans will give me an added boost tomorrow and help me towards a top result.”
Marco Melandri, Gresini Honda: 9th.
“We're moving forward. This morning we ran a couple of comparative tests and in the afternoon I only ran the modified chassis that we tried for the first time at Le Mans. The race pace is quite good and after all the problems we've had this weekend I'm quite happy with the third row. Tomorrow I'll just try and get a good start and fight for a top result.”
Shinya Nakano, Konica Minolta Honda: 12th.
“With the tyres we have tested and the setting changes we have made the bike felt a little bit better today which is just what we were looking for. The problem we’ve had, with both chatter from the front-end of the bike and the actual getting the bike to turn itself has improved. The conditions were hot again today, but I’m pleased that I was able to improve my lap time and we’ve picked what I think is a good combination of race tyres for tomorrow. We had a little bit of bad luck with coming across a slower rider when I had the first, soft qualifying tyre on, but this happens. The start will be important for us, but it is easy to overtake here, so from 12th on the grid I will be going for a top eight finish.”
Carlos Checa, LCR Honda: 15th.
"This morning in free practice I had some confidence that our set-up was improving but with the qualifying tyre it was impossible to do better than this. We have changed everything on the set-up, but when I flick the bike it doesn’t want to turn, the front goes one way and the rear the other, the balance is all wrong. I’m still too far from the race pace so hopefully we can find some solutions for tomorrow. I didn’t imagine that things could be worse than yesterday, but that is our situation."
Kenny Roberts Jnr, KR212V: 18th.
“As far as the qualifiers go, the first one I got just a bad feeling out of the front right out of the pits and felt like I wasn't able to put any pressure on it. So when I came in, Warren (Willing) rotated the bike around to put more physical weight on the front and then it actually felt fine for the second run. I think if I would have had that confidence in it from the first run, I would have been able to go quicker. The team had two different bikes in the garage and we improved mine by pushing the steering head away and getting a little bit more leverage on it to go into corner and that helped quite a bit. And I think Kurtis will run that tomorrow morning.”
Kurtis Roberts, KR212V: 19th.
“Well, we're as fast on race tires as we are on qualifiers. The problem is we put on the qualifiers and we need to pick up a second or two like everyone else does and we just chattered our brains out. I was with (Alex) Barros the whole lap until the last two corners and then he's gone, just because there's nothing I could do about it. I was even ahead of Kenny there for 90% of the session, which isn't bad considering how much time we have on the thing. You've got to look at everything in comparison. It's not like we're that far off. Kenny thought that there might be a problem when I went to qualifiers, but there's nothing we could do about it. It's just time. I think it's heading in the right direction.”
Kenny Roberts – Team Principal.
“This one's actually better than Italy. For race tires, we're fairly competitive with the group ahead of us. In Italy we weren't that close. So it's better for a race set-up than it was in Italy. But the qualifier just chattered its brains out and of course we're going two, three seconds off the pace, now a second and a half off a decent pace in practice. It's not like we're going to throw a qualifier in and go out there and nail it.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Kopron Scot Honda: 3rd.
“In the last qualifying session I made a small riding mistake I could have been fastr but that’s no big problem. I am happy because my rhythm is good on race tyres and I am not too far off the pole and running similar times to Barbera and Debon. I think the race will be between four the top four of us and it might be a question of who saves his tyres the best. The difference here in comparison to Mugello is that the Honda chassis is better and my corner exit speed also.”
Yuki Takahashi, Kopron Scot Honda: 11th.
“Yesterday I tried the new rear suspension link and I kept it for today’s practice and qualifying it feels much better than before. The problem I have is with weight transfer and we need time to improve this. For my final time attack I followed a group and considering my body condition I have to be happy with my time. I am happy because I was not pushing hard at all.”
Julian Simon, Repsol Honda: 12th.
"To be honest, today hasn’t been a positive day either. The team has done a great job and we’ve been trying to find the best setting for tomorrow, but we haven’t found it yet. The result is not at all satisfying for me. I’m quite close to the second position, but I’m not happy. I hope to be able to open the throttle quicker tomorrow and to feel more motivated, because this whole situation has affected me somehow. I have not been at the level I usually am. We’ll get onto the track in high spirits tomorrow, I’ll try to make a good start and the team is going to work hard tonight to have a good motorbike for tomorrow."
Shuhei Aoyama, Repsol Honda: 13rd.
“We tested several configurations for the suspensions this morning and eventually found the one that fitted us best. Then we continued with the rest of the settings and I tried to push hard. Despite not having been able to set a great lap, I felt that things improved, allowing me to have a good pace. In my last attempt I touched another rider and wasn’t able to clock a better lap time. Moreover, we made a mistake with the rear tyre which did not really work as expected. But the feelings haven’t been bad, so we’ll see what happens with a full tank, because I don’t know how the bike is going to behave; things worked well with little fuel.”
Ratthapark Wilairot, Thai Honda PTT-SAG: 22th.
"After this morning's free practice session, I thought I could lap in 1'47, but it wasn't possible. The weather was much warmer this afternoon, so we decided to focus on the race set-up and try to find the best compromise in terms of suspension settings and tyre choice. I was pretty quick in race trim and if I manage to do a good race, I will be able to fight for point-scoring positions. Tomorrow's race will be very important for me as I will be supported by a Thai delegation, representatives from AP Honda, other sponsors and several journalists. I hope I won't disappoint them."
Eugene Laverty, LCR Honda: 23st.
"he bike is working well with a comfortable set-up, and I’m confident for the race. I lost ten minutes with a rear brake problem in the qualifying session so I could have been a little faster, and in the practice session some water leaked onto the rear tyre and caused me to crash."
Bradley Smith, Repsol Honda: 4th.
“It’s been good, because I clocked a good time this morning and I was able to keep the position in the front row. The other riders have been really fast in the last laps, so I think that I’ll have to improve further for tomorrow to be able to push and stay with them. But I’m happy, because I have a good pace and I’m able to keep consistent times, so I hope to stay there until the last laps. I’ll have to make a good start and push hard to be with them. We’ll have to see what happens. I haven’t seen the times yet, but considering the long straight we have here the race will probably be grouped. Moreover, if the wind is as strong as during the qualifying and yesterday afternoon, we’ll be able to make up some time on the straight. I’m not completely sure, but the races here are usually grouped.”
Tito Rabat, Repsol Honda: 12th.
”The practice has been really good. My hand hurt a bit, especially when braking, on bumps and during the corners. But then we changed and I was able to make two good laps in 1’51, which is quite good for my expectations. I tried to push as hard as I could and considering my injured hand it was really the best I could do. The team has helped me a lot to prevent me from having pain. I clocked 1’51 all by myself, and that’s very good, because it means that I have a good pace, without having to follow anyone else.”
Mike Di Meglio, Kopron Scot Honda: 16nd.
“Today I had a lot of chattering problems using new tyres, the rear end of bike was sliding a lot. In those conditions it is difficult to maintain control. We have to work hard tonight to solve this problem ride a good warm up in the morning and try to quickly recuperate positions in the race.”
Alexis Masbou, FFM Honda: 22th.
“I’ m all messed up mentally and can’t find the right pace
because of that. It’s true that I put an immense amount of pressure on myself because I feel I could do better. And because of that I don’t exactly know whether I need to be more precise or stay natural, if I should be working even more or let my instinct do the job. I find it extremely hard to relax. And at the end of the day I completely messed up the final qualifying session and didn't improve my lap times from yesterday. I did manage to do a few laps at 100%, but the times just weren't there. Tomorrow morning in the warm-up we will revert to our setting from Friday, which suited me better. I’m going to try and work things out mentally this evening and to have a more peaceful approach to the race. My team is doing their utmost to back me up - morally and technically - and I will do all I can possibly can to bring them satisfaction.”
Joey Litjens, Molenaar Honda: 31th.
"Not very good today. I don’t really know why we had so many difficulties with the bike in qualifying. I was a full second faster than yesterday but we have work to do on the handling - the set up is not what I need. On my fastest lap I was better in two sections but a braking mistake hurt my time. The heat is not helping either, my engine was very, very hot while riding in a group and I just had no acceleration today I could not pass anybody. The only time the engine temperature dropped was when I was alone down the long straight. This is a fantastic circuit that I like very much and I am disappointed with my qualifying session."
Dino Lombardi, Kopron Scot Honda: 33th.
“Dino Lombardi will not race tomorrow. The young Italian crashed during final qualifying for the 125cc GP and broke his left ankle.”
Danny Webb, Molenaar Honda: 35th.
”The morning session was good for me but the qualifying session not good at all. We softened up the front suspension damping for qualifying and I went out and did five laps then went to the pit for more suspension adjustments. But that turned out to be the wrong thing to do. I changed tyres and returned the front suspension to the original settings then went out again. But I did not find a fast group to run with and panicked a little bit. I had to set my time riding alone and was not fast enough.”