Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner shattered the lap record for the Twin Ring Motegi circuit while scoring a new record of ten MotoGP poles in one season in qualifying for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix. The runaway world championship leader will start the 15th round of the MotoGP World Championship on the front row ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso.
Casey STONER (Repsol Honda Team)
Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Repsol Honda Team)
Row two has a similar makeup, with Honda riders on either end and a Yamaha rider in between. Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) qualified fourth fastest in front of Ben Spies (Yamaha) and Marco Simoncelli, the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider who rebounded from a mid-session spill to steal the second row with his final lap of Honda’s home circuit.
From this weekend’s earliest laps of the 4801m circuit north of Tokyo, Stoner felt confident that lowering the existing qualifying record was achievable. The Honda RC212V was developed at Motegi and its braking stability and strong acceleration make it the perfect choice for the stop-and-go course. Lowering the record would take a sterling performance since the existing lap record of 1m, 45.543s was set by Lorenzo on qualifying tyres in 2008. To get there would mean knocking more than 1.5s off last year’s pole time of 1m, 47.001s set by Dovizioso.
With just under 13 minutes remaining in the one hour session, held under cloudy skies, Stoner dipped down into the 1m, 45s lap times. His next lap would approach the previous lap record, but the new record wouldn’t come on that tyre.
With just over five minutes to go in the session, Lorenzo would be the one to eclipse the old mark and temporarily hold custody of the pole. Two minutes from the end of the session Stoner shattered the mark by clocking a lap of 1m, 45.267s, a time that was 1.7s faster than last year’s pole mark.
The pole was Stoner’s tenth of the season, setting a new record for the MotoGP era and breaking a tie he’d held with Valentino Rossi. Rossi secured nine poles en route to winning the 2003 MotoGP World Championship for the Repsol Honda team. Stoner had nine poles in 2008 in defence of his 2007 MotoGP World Championship. It was also Stoner’s 14th front row start in 15 races this season; he qualified fourth in Portugal.
Dovizioso was hopeful of adding this year’s pole to his resume, but came up short. With just over a minute to go he fired in his best lap and moved to third, dropping team-mate Pedrosa to row two. Though he didn’t earn the pole, he was back on the front row for the first time since the French Grand Prix in mid-May.
Pedrosa spent most of the hour in the top three and would have been on the front row if not for Dovi’s late fast lap. Unlike some other riders, Pedrosa paradoxically found less grip in the softer option Bridgestone rear tyre, the softest tyre they’ve ever brought to Motegi. Believing it was a problem with the first tyre, Pedrosa tried a second one, but the results didn’t change. Though he wasn’t able to produce a single fast lap, his pace on the medium compound race tyres gave him confidence ahead of Sunday’s race.
Simoncelli was also steadily in the top five throughout qualifying. His bid to move up the order ended with crash in turn five when he lost the front near mid-session. After a brisk return to the pits to change leathers and motorcycles, Simoncelli went back out to improve his time. Once he regained his confidence, he was able to consistently lap in the 1m, 46s range, finishing with a best of 1m, 46.211s on the last of his 18 full laps.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) was hopeful of qualifying higher up the grid in his home grand prix. After qualifying 11th, the rider from Chiba was thankful for the support of his fellow MotoGP riders, all of whom showed up for the race. The Japanese fans echoed his sentiments, with signs thanking the MotoGP riders for their support.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) continued his struggles at a track where his fellow Honda riders excelled. Elias also had trouble with the softer option Bridgestone rear tyre. Most riders used it to set their fastest laps, but Elias didn’t find confidence in the front end on the soft option, which compromised his grid position.
Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi was 17th aboard the LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V in his second MotoGP ride of the season. He’d earlier ridden the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V in place of Aoyama, when Aoyama rode the Repsol Honda RC212V of the injured Dani Pedrosa in the Dutch TT in Assen. Like Elias, Akiyoshi found adapting to the tyres-Bridgestone brought medium and soft options-to be challenging. By the end of the session he’d found some confidence and was looking forward to winning the battle of the Japanese riders.
Shinichi Ito rode the Team HRC RC212V to the 19th qualifying spot in a race that means a lot to him. Ito lives in Miyagi Prefecture, an area which was heavily damaged during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The 44-year-old, who began his premier class career riding a Honda NSR500 in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, is having something of a victory lap, having won his fourth Suzuka 8-Hours earlier this year for Honda. This race will be his final appearance on an 800cc MotoGP machine, with the 1000cc RC213V set to replace the RC212V in 2012 and Ito headed back into retirement. The 44-year-old crashed his lone RC212V in the morning, robbing him of valuable setup time for the more important afternoon qualifying session.
Marc Marquez (Team CaixaCatalunya-Suter) continued his Moto2 dominance by taking his sixth pole of the season. The 18-year-old from Cervera, Spain rider has been on an amazing roll, winning six of the past seven races, including the last three, to come within six points of the championship lead currently held by Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex). Bradl qualified eighth, and .722s from Marquez, and will have his work cut out for him if he’s to retain the championship lead he’s held since the Portuguese Grand Prix back in May.
Marquez put a comfortable .193s on second fastest Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter) with his 13th full lap of the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. The lap of 1m, 52.067s was a new qualifying record for the Moto2 class, bettering the 1m, 52.008s lap run by Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team-Suter) last year. The second fastest qualifying effort was a return to form for Luthi, who was on the front row in the first four races, but not since the French Grand Prix in mid-May. Luthi had .163s on Andrea Iannone (Speed Master-Suter), the third fastest qualifier. Iannone, on the front row for only the second time this season, currently sits third in the championship, 83 points behind Marquez.
Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)
Marco SIMONCELLI (San Carlo Honda Gresini)
Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda RC212V: Pole position – 1m 45.267s
“Everything has gone very well so far this weekend. We've been fastest in all but one session, so it's been fantastic. We tried a few different settings this afternoon and didn't really improve, so we'll probably go back to this morning's setting for tomorrow. We'll have to watch the weather as this will affect the setup; there's also a chance of rain so it could get complicated. Jorge (Lorenzo) has been riding fantastic, as has Dovi and Dani (Pedrosa), but there is no doubt that the Honda suits this track. I've been looking forward to riding it here for a while now and I'm not disappointed! Tomorrow will be a tough race, but the team is working hard and we'll do our best.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda RC212V: 3rd - 1m, 45.791s
“I'm very happy to be on the front row here in Motegi. This afternoon we improved again from this morning and I feel very confident, especially under braking. We still haven't decided on the tyre for tomorrow, as we are good on both compounds, but I feel positive for the race and for the fight for the podium tomorrow. I'm really happy with the work of the team and the Honda is working really well at this track, I think tomorrow we will have a great race.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda RC212V: 4th - 1m. 45.966s
“The qualifying practice started quite well for us; we were doing lap times with a consistent pace preparing for the race and everything seemed to be going well. But at the end, when I switched to soft tyres, I couldn't get them working, I had much less grip. I thought it could be a problem with the first tyre and so I came back to the garage to change it but again I had the same issue. I am disappointed not to be on the front row, but the good feeling with the race tyres is good news. We will need to see how the weather is tomorrow. If the temperature drops a lot maybe some riders will use the soft, but considering my feeling, I will probably choose the hard one. The race will be very tough with (Casey) Stoner, (Andrea) Dovizioso and maybe Lorenzo, but we want to fight until the end.”
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 6th - 1m, 46.211s
“I was going quite well up to the crash, but unfortunately I made a little mistake in turn five, hit a bump and crashed, which compromised the second half of the session. I struggled a little for confidence when I went back out and only got to use one soft tyre. Without that I could have maybe been fighting for the front row, but in any case I am happy because I have good race pace and hopefully tomorrow I can be fighting for the podium.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 11th – 1m, 46.811s
“The final position is not particularly pleasing, but my feeling with the bike is good and so is my race pace so I am confident for tomorrow. I will try to start as well as possible and make up as many positions as I can. The weather could change tomorrow and the track temperature will definitely be lower so we might have to change the set-up but we have a clear idea which direction to take. I want to have a good race in my home grand prix and give my fans a positive result.”
Toni Elias, LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V: 16th – 1m, 48.169s
“After yesterday’s good adjustments I felt more confident ahead today’s qualifying, but at the end I could not lap into the 1’47 range. This morning on harder tyre it seemed we could improve our lap time but later on Q-tyres I started to lose the front again. I went wide a couple of times, but I could not go faster in these conditions. We have already chosen our race tyre and tomorrow we will work through a number of various set-up changes to move into the 1’47 range.”
Kousuke Akiyoshi, LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V: 17th – 1m, 48.367s
“Today I have started to understand better the tyres features and with a few changes of the suspension setting I made the bike feeling better compared to yesterday. I have improved my pace gradually and with further adjustments on the front fork and rear link I am well prepared for the race. I will do my best as a delegate of the Japanese riders group to bring some courage to my population.”
Shinichi Ito, Team HRC RC212V: 19th – 1m, 49.971s
“After this morning's crash, I lost some confidence and was unable to find the pace I needed for qualifying. I worked hard to find a good setting, but I wasn't able to get the best possible. Tonight, I will speak together with my technician and we will try to find a solution tomorrow morning in warm-up. Apart from this, the atmosphere here in the paddock is very nice, I like it very much and I'm so happy to be here as a GP rider. We will do our best tomorrow to have a good race.”
Marc Marquez, Team CaixaCatalunya-Suter: Pole position, 1m, 52.067s
“This weekend we start a little bit slower than other weekends because this circuit is a little bit different than Misano and Aragon. Here have many hard brake points and we just find the good setup. In the beginning was normal. We need improve the bike, but now I’m happy with the bike. We have a good base, so tomorrow we will see, but I think we can do a good race. But the most important here in Japan is finish the race, because this circuit is a little bit hard for me. But anyway, I catch the pole position and I’m happy for that, but tomorrow we have the most important day.”
Thomas Luthi, Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter: 2nd – 1m, 52.260s
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling all over the weekend. We had a good basic setup of the bike and I feel quite comfortable right from the beginning. So I could go through all over the weekend with that pace and it’s good to be for sure on the front row. I’d like to catch today the pole position, but Marc was just a bit faster in the end. But I tried just too much, had a little mistake, and went in the gravel. Overall I’m happy and looking forward to the race.”
Andrea Iannone, Speed Master-Suter: 3rd – 1m, 52.423s
“I’m happy with this result. It’s important to be starting from the first row; this is positive for tomorrow. We have a good outlook for the race. We worked on the bike and at the moment we are pretty much satisfied with the setup that we’ve prepared. I can ride without struggling too much, we just have to improve some minor things. The race of tomorrow will be a difficult one. Marc Marquez and Tom Luthi are very fast, but we’ll do our best to end the weekend with a good result. I’d like to thank the team and Suter for the work that they’ve done and that they keep doing during each grand prix.”