World Championship leader Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) won a crucial battle for pole position at the Sachsenring today in preparation for tomorrow's German Grand Prix. The Australian fought for pole with fellow Honda riders Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V), who ended the session second and fourth fastest. Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) qualified sixth.
Casey STONER (Repsol Honda Team)
Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)
Achieving a good qualifying performance is always vital in MotoGP, but more so at the Sachsenring than at most tracks, because the venue's tight and tortuous layout makes overtaking more difficult than ever.
Stoner's sixth pole of the 2011 season came after a busy last quarter of an hour during which he overhauled early pacesetter Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and then resisted determined attacks from Simoncelli and Pedrosa. With 15 minutes remaining Stoner led Lorenzo by 0.245s, then two minutes later Simoncelli moved into second, closing the gap to just 0.035s, then another two minutes Pedrosa came within 0.014s of the Australian. Stoner responded to the threat in fine style, building his advantage to 0.125 seconds and then during his final run doubling that to 0.252s.
As always at the Sachsenring - which features MotoGP's second shortest lap time after Laguna Seca - the grid is very closely packed, with just 0.263s seconds separating the front row and 0.995s covering the fastest dozen riders.
Stoner's pole was a great achievement considering his difficult start to the weekend. The 25-year-old crashed at high speed on his second lap yesterday morning, due to lack of heat in the right side of his front tyre. This is one of the most asymmetric circuits of the year, dominated by left-handers, including a long sequence of seven lefts from turns four to ten, so it's tricky for riders to get enough temperature into the right side of the tyres. Stoner and several others - Pedrosa, Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V) and Valentino Rossi (Ducati) - all fell at the turn 11 right-hander during FP1.
Although he bruised a bone in his left forearm and dented his confidence, Stoner bounced back from the crash to end this morning's session a close fourth fastest, less than three tenths behind fastest man Lorenzo. This afternoon he worked carefully with his crew, going in different directions with the settings on his two RCVs, and made some big steps forward that make him quietly confident for the race, round nine of the 18-race World Championship.
Pedrosa's run to second fastest was doubly impressive, considering that this is only his second event since returning from a complicated collarbone injury which forced him to miss the Catalan, British and Dutch rounds. The former 125 and 250 World Champion was surprised at being so competitive, considering that he is in pain and not yet back to full strength. However, the fact that the Sachsenring is a very left-handed circuit is offering some respite to his right collarbone. Although happy with his bike, the Spaniard will spend this evening consulting with his technicians in an effort to improve traction for the race.
Simoncelli continued his impressive run of qualifying performances, the Italian battling for a seventh consecutive front-row start, but in the final seconds of the session he was demoted to the second row by Lorenzo. Simoncelli lost a front row start by a sliver - just 0.010s. The reason was a slight loss in confidence after he became the latest turn 11 victim in this morning's session, losing the front in cooler conditions because the tyre wasn't up to full temperature.
Dovizioso had been fifth at the end of free practice, slipping one place to sixth in qualifying, albeit less than half a second off pole. Currently on a rich run of form - with four podium finishes from the last five races - Dovizioso is confident of another strong challenge here, after further improving his RCV's engine-braking set-up during post-Mugello tests. Like the others, he knows that tyre management on the left side of the tyres - which take a real pounding here - will be a crucial factor during tomorrow's race.
Yesterday morning Elias had two crashes - the first at tun 11, the second at turn One - but the reigning Moto2 World Champion refused to let those tumbles slow his progress. Today he worked on getting more feel and easier handling from the front end of his RCV and succeeded. The result was 14th fastest, equalling his best qualifying result of the year so far.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) is still struggling from the issues he sustained in a crash at Mugello, so the best he could do today was 15th fastest.
Marc Marquez (Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol-Suter) may be a Moto2 rookie who had never ridden this track with a Moto2 bike before yesterday, but that didn't stop the dazzling teenager from grabbing pole position in this afternoon's qualifying session.
Local favourite and World Championship leader Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex) was out front halfway through the 45-minute session, but in the final minutes he had Aleix Espargaro (Pons HP40-Pons Kalex) and then Marquez better his time, demoting him to third place. A final charge by Bradl moved him back into second place, ahead of Espargaro and just 0.129s behind Marquez. Lap times were thrillingly close, with 1.073s separating the fastest 26 riders.
This was Marquez's third pole position in the Honda-powered series and his fourth consecutive front-row performance. After winning the last two races at Assen and Mugello, this is just what he needed to put further pressure on Bradl, who currently holds a 52 point lead over Marquez. Last time out at Mugello, Marquez beat Bradl in a superb end-of-race showdown and this year's Moto2 title battle would appear to be down to these two young stars.
Bradl, of course, has the extra motivation but also the extra pressure of racing at home in front of an expectant crowd. Already the winner of four races this season, the young German will be out to stop Marquez from scoring a hat-trick of wins, while at the same making absolutely sure that he doesn't make any mistakes that might damage his impressive championship lead. Like everything in racing, it's a compromise - never too much, never too little - to get the best result.
Espargaro may have lost pole, but at the end of the session he still held third for his second front-row start in Moto2. The young Spaniard held onto third place, just 0.185s in front of Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing Moto2-Moriwaki) whose fourth place is his best qualifying slot so far. The second row is completed by Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2-Suter) - making a heroic return from the broken leg he sustained at last month's Catalan GP - and sixth-fastest Alex De Angelis (JIR Moto2-Motobi).
Tomorrow's race is the mid-point in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship and precedes next week's US GP at Laguna Seca, where only the MotoGP class will compete.
Marco SIMONCELLI (San Carlo Honda Gresini)
Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Repsol Honda Team)
Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda: pole position - 1m 21.681s
“After the crash on Friday my confidence was dented a little and we struggled to get enough data, so we've been playing catch up all day today. This morning we made a few small steps forward, but not really enough, the guys in front of us were just consistently that little bit faster and we were finding it hard to match their pace. We completed a lot of laps on one tyre this morning, in fact over race distance on a tyre I did one of my fastest laps on so this was certainly positive. Then this afternoon we kept trying different directions on both bikes and every step we made on each bike, we took big steps forward so we're pretty happy with the set-up we have now. The lap times are very close here so it will be a tough race and hard to take any real advantage. However, I'm very happy and positive we can still slightly improve tomorrow morning so thanks to all my team for a great job.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 2nd - 1m 21.933s
“It's great to be on the front row again, to be honest I didn't expect it. But we've done a good job and it's important to start in front here because the first corner is very tight and it's better to avoid being immersed in the group at the start. For the race, we still need to improve the bike a little, so we will work on that with the mechanics this evening. It would be nice to have a little more traction. I think we will need to pay attention to Yamaha at the end of the race because the riding is smoother and they can save the tyres better. As for my condition, right now the races are physically hard for me, but it's also true that with more left-hand corners in this circuit I don't suffer as in Mugello and I can concentrate on my riding. More than pain, I feel weak from lack of training, but we will give our maximum hoping to get a good result.”
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 4th - 1m 21.954s
“I am little bit disappointed today because we managed to solve our problems this morning, but then took a step backwards in the afternoon. In any case I am confident because our race pace is up there with the top three and I think I can have a good race. The main problem today was that I lost my confidence with the front so I was struggling under braking and in the corners.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 6th - 1m 22.157s
“I'm confident for tomorrow as we have good pace, but it will be a hard race as there are five or six of us very close to each other. Starting from the second row it will be important to have a good start and keep a constant rhythm without stressing the tyres too much as they get very hot here. In the first laps the right side of the tyre is difficult to get temperature into whilst the left side is stressed a lot, so managing the tyres will be a crucial point for the race. We will work on the set-up to fine tune the settings and I'm positive to fight for a good result tomorrow.”
Toni Elias, LCR Honda MotoGP: 14th - 1m 23.201s
“I feel quite satisfied because this is our best qualification this year so far. Of course we are not totally happy because we have got the potential to improve and to qualify in the top ten, but this is a good step forward. It seems we have a clear idea about the race tyres and probably we could develop this base set-up in the future to increase my pace. I am hoping to lap at 1m 22s and my crew is doing a very good job to fine tune the bike. I always take good starts and will try hard to do the same tomorrow even if the distance between the straight and the first corner is very short. I aim to be in the top ten after the first turn.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 15th - 1m 23.248s
“We tried to improve the set-up of the bike, but we didn't make any major progress, especially in the final stages of qualifying. Tomorrow we will try and find some solutions that will give us more pace in the race and allow us to make up some positions. Obviously I am still struggling from the Assen injuries so with this being a long race here at Sachsenring I hope it's not too painful.”
Marc Marquez, Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol-Suter: pole position - 1m 24.733s
“This is a difficult race because we are in Bradl's home country and he is very strong here. From yesterday morning we improved step by step, even though things were so hard at first. We had some problems, but I think I am starting to understand this category, so it's easier to find the good way. Now we have a good pace and we are on pole which is important because it is so difficult to pass at this track. So I'm happy for that and I'm happy with the bike. Tomorrow I will be happy if I can finish on the podium.”
Stefan Bradl, Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex: 2nd - 1m 24.862s
“My first target for today was the front row because it's important for the race and we have achieved that goal. I'm not 100 per cent happy because we need to make some improvements to the front suspension settings. I'm having some problems when I push really hard - the front doesn't do what I want it to do. But I think we are pretty well prepared for tomorrow. It will be a very long and very hard race.”
Aleix Espargaro, Pons HP40-Pons Kalex: 3rd - 1m 24.900s
“It's been a very difficult two days of practice because at this track all the riders are very close on lap times and also it's very difficult to find any clear space to do a fast lap, because there are so many riders out there. Because of this we changed our strategy, fitting our softer tyres in the middle of the session when more riders are in the pits. At one time we were fastest and we finally we are third. I'm happy because the front row at this track is extra important. Now we will see how the race goes, lap by lap.”