Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) came within .016s of his first ever front row start by qualifying a MotoGP career best fourth on a day of blustery winds and bitter cold at the majestic Phillip Island circuit high above the Bass Straits south of Melbourne. But the day was less kind to Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V). Pedrosa found the rigors of racing with a still mending broken collarbone to be too onerous and chose not to ride in Sunday’s 16th round of the MotoGP World Championship.
Marco SIMONCELLI (San Carlo Honda Gresini)
Randy DE PUNIET (LCR Honda MotoGP) & Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda)
Pole position went to Casey Stoner (Ducati), the Australian who was celebrating his 25th birthday. Recently crowned world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) was second, with Ben Spies (Yamaha) third.
Simoncelli and Spies are fighting for Rookie of the Year honors and the Italian’s best ever MotoGP grid position certainly helped his cause. Prior to the race in Australia, Simoncelli had never qualified higher than eighth, which he’d done on five different occasions. But under extremely difficult conditions, the Italian came tantalizingly close to the front row, which was a good omen heading into Sunday’s race.
The winner of the last two 250cc races here, Simoncelli saved his best for last, lapping the 4448m road course in 1:31.402m on his 23rd and final lap. That put him on the row two pole in front of Colin Edwards (Yamaha) and Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet was on the row three pole with Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) next to him and Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) ninth. De Puniet didn’t have an easy path to seventh fastest. He’d begun the day with a small crash in the morning’s free practice session. And on his best lap, he was balked by a slower rider, which likely kept him off the front row. Still, he was happy with his race pace and happy to be the second fastest Honda rider.
Dovizioso had come to Phillip Island after a pair of stunning qualifying efforts. The Italian had taken his first ever pole two weeks ago in Japan and was on the front row again last weekend in Malaysia. Expectations were high for Dovi at Phillip Island, but he had a difficult start to the session. He spent most of the first 25 minutes at the bottom of the order before making gradual improvements that would take him to the ninth fastest time.
The problem was the wind. Dovizioso struggled with the high winds today, which made it difficult to control the bike on the racing line. The cold temperatures almost meant that rear tyre grip was elusive.
Team-mate Pedrosa rode valiantly to the 15th fastest time. Riding with a still mending left collarbone, the brutal conditions were exactly what he didn’t need. Controlling the Honda RC212V in the gusting winds was especially taxing on his neck and shoulder. On reflection, he realized the best course of action was to not do the collarbone any further damage. Rather he chose to rest the collarbone to be at closer to full strength for the final two races of the year, as well as the very important first off-season test in Valencia.
Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) crashed heavily in the morning, but recovered in the afternoon to record the tenth fastest time. Melandri caught a puddle on the inside of corner that sent his rear wheel sluing sideways. The crash looked worse than it was and didn’t affect him in qualifying. But he never found a comfortable setting and wasn’t confident going into Sunday’s race.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP) was disappointed to qualify 13th fastest in his first visit to Phillip Island on a MotoGP bike. Aoyama found the conditions unsettling which affected his confidence on the high speed circuit. He was hopeful of finding a solution in the morning and also hopeful the weather would improve.
Coming off a fine second place finish in Malaysia last weekend, Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2, Motobi) was ecstatic after his first ever Moto2 pole position. The San Marinese, who signed on with the JIR Moto2 team in Aragon, used the last of his 17 laps to get his first Moto2 pole position at his favourite track. De Angelis ran a best time of 1m, 35.148s, which was .230s faster than Scott Redding, the Marc VDS Racing Team rider who has yet to earn a pole position.
The only worry for de Angelis was rain. Though this was his fourth race with the team, he’d yet to race it in wet conditions, though his confidence in the dry was sky high.
Redding toyed with trying another soft tyre towards the end of qualifying, but in the end chose not to. Rather he was able to spend more time fine tuning his race setting in advance of Sunday’s race. The young Brit has become something of a wizard in qualifying. After a slow start to the season, he’s been on the front row for five of the last six races, including the second position four times.
Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kieffer Racing, Suter) was on the front row for the third time this year. He’d begun the season by qualifying third in Qatar and was back on the front row for the July British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Now he was back on the front row and hoping for good weather for Sunday’s race.
Mike di Meglio (Mapfre Aspar Team, Suter) put in a qualifying performance for the ages. The Italian hadn’t qualified better than 13th, which came in the Qatar season-opener. But under difficult conditions, the Italian turned in his best Saturday performance by taking the final spot on the front row.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda)
Hiroshi AOYAMA (Interwetten Honda MotoGP)
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 4th – 1m, 31.402s
“I am really happy because we have qualified on the third row for the last few races but today I managed it and with a little bit more I could have been on the front row! I'm really pleased with this although being honest I have to admit that (Ben) Spies is probably a bit faster. We have made a good step this morning though and now all we have to do is look ahead to the race. The wind was a bit of a problem today, especially when I was on my fast lap. I was behind (Casey) Stoner at that point and I honestly cannot understand how he manages to go so fast!”
Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda RC212V: 7th – 1m, 31.554s
“I think we made a good job both in the wet (yesterday) and in the dry (today) because I lapped consistently fast. This afternoon we focused on race mapping making two long runs with a good rhythm as I was always in the top six. I missed the front row by two-tenths, only because I lost too much time behind (Mika) Kallio in my fastest lap. Anyway, it is good to be the second Honda rider on the grid and I am confident we can do a good race in both conditions.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda RC212V: 9th – 1m, 32.018s
“I struggled to ride in the high winds today and actually my body position on the bike was making things difficult in these conditions. The main reason for my grid position is that with the gusty wind I cannot control the bike as I want and hold the racing line, and we also need to find some more grip as well. I expected to be higher than ninth, but of course riding in a group during the race will be different and I hope we will have a better feeling tomorrow afternoon. We will look at the data we gathered today and try to come up with a solution for tomorrow, and also I will try to modify my riding if we encounter these strong winds again. I have been on the front row for the last two races so I’m not happy to be back in ninth, but with a good start from the third row we can get away with the leaders. We are fast in wet conditions so I don’t mind if it rains for the race. It’s a shame for Dani today. Riding injured is never easy and in these conditions it’s even more difficult.”
Marco Melandri, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 10th – 1m, 32.367s
“Another terrible day. We're working hard without a minimal sign of improvement. We have so many problems, to be honest I can't wait for the season to finish.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V: 13th – 1m, 33.190s
“The weather here is very critical and I don’t feel much confidence on my bike, especially when it is dry. We have to work hard on finding a solution for tomorrow, so I get a better feeling with my bike and can push more. Unfortunately we don’t have much time left and the weather is changing consistently. We have to work on the settings tomorrow in warm-up and we need to adjust the electronics. I hope we can find a better solution.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda RC212V: 15th – 1m, 33.384s
“After the operation in Spain my target was to come back in Australia. But having ridden in the three practice sessions here it’s clear that it is really impossible for me to maintain a high pace because I lose strength in my arm lap-by-lap and controlling the bike gets increasingly difficult - even more so with the strong winds here. Phillip Island is a very fast circuit, I have to grip the handlebars very tightly, and this makes me very tired and gives me a lot of pain. To ride around three seconds off the pace in the race tomorrow and maybe collect just a few points wouldn’t make much sense. But I think it has been worth it to at least try to ride here because we really didn’t know how I would be on the bike until we tried. Now, though, I don’t want to take more risks so that I can recover in time for Estoril. I discussed the situation with HRC Team Director Kazuhiko Yamano and we have the same opinion.”
Alex de Angelis, JiR Moto2, Motobi: 1st – 1m, 35.148s
“Yes, I’m very, very happy for my first pole position in Moto2 and also because this is my favourite track. I like so much, especially the last corner is very fast. So this bike work very well. Continue my feeling good. So for tomorrow I am OK. I try all the tyres that Dunlop give me and only one problem is if tomorrow is coming rain, because I never try this bike in the rain. But for dry conditions I will be very happy and for sure tomorrow I will try to make a good result.”
Scott Redding, Marc VDS Racing Team, Suter: 2nd – 1m, 35.378s
“Conditions were a bit dodgy at the start of the session. We started on slicks but the rain got heavier, so we changed to wets, at which point the rain stopped. Typical Phillip Island! The bike felt good once the track had dried enough to switch back to slicks and the lap times came pretty easy. I thought I could have gone faster, but each time I pushed that little bit more, the rear stepped out on me and I had to shut off. Alex (de Angelis)came past me right at the end of the session; I tried to repay the compliment, but I just couldn't find a way past him. I'm disappointed to lose pole position right at the end of the session yet again, but the front row will do me. We have the pace and I'm confident going into tomorrow's race.”
Stefan Bradl, Viessmann Kiefer Racing, Suter: 3rd – 1m, 35.578s
“Yes, I enjoy a lot. I feel quite well with the whole bike and the circuit I like a lot. And, yeah, we improved in the last races and we are all the time in the top ten and that was our goal. And I hope tomorrow will be a nice race and I hope for not too bad weather conditions.”
Mike di Meglio, Mapfre Aspar Team, Suter: 4th – 1m, 35.696s.
“I am really happy because so far we have had a fantastic weekend. I feel happy on the bike and I have enjoyed myself this weekend more than I have in a long time. Tomorrow I will try all I can to keep this up and I am really keen to have a good race. Hopefully the weather is good because a wet race at this circuit is always tricky. I think my lap time was good, my race pace too, but we need to take another step forward in the warm-up if we are going to match (Scott) Redding and (Alex) De Angelis. It is a case of adapting better to the wind but in any case I am happy with our performance so far this weekend and I think we are ready for the race."
Marcel Schrötter, Interwetten Honda 125 Team: 15th - 1m 42.252s
“The wind is so strong here and it comes from many directions, which makes it unpredictable. It is not easy to ride the bike in these conditions and you have to be careful not to lose the front, what happened to me yesterday and almost again this morning. In the last five laps I always had a rider in front of me who was slower, but I could not pass him. Then in the last lap I made a mistake and this cost me half to one second. I hope I can do well in the race tomorrow.”