Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner sped to a record-extending 11th pole position of the season with the fastest lap of a cold and windy qualifying session ahead of Sunday’s 16th round of the MotoGP World Championship on his home track of Phillip Island, Australia. The championship leader, who could lock up the 2011 MotoGP World Championship on Sunday, is joined on the front row by Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and fellow Honda rider Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V). Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) qualified in the middle of the second row between Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) and Nicky Hayden (Ducati), with team-mate Dani Pedrosa eighth fastest and in the middle of row three.
Casey STONER (Repsol Honda Team)
Marco SIMONCELLI (San Carlo Honda Gresini)
Stoner has been looking forward to this race ever since joining the Honda family last season. The fastest track on the calendar and the fastest rider in the championship are a perfect match, along with the Repsol Honda RC212V, the motorcycle which has won 11 of 15 races this season.
Having won the past four races here, it was no surprise that the Australian started strongly by topping Friday’s combined practice, held under a cloudless blue sky on the island south of Melbourne. The weather wasn’t nearly as agreeable on Saturday, when Stoner sped to his fourth pole position in a row at Phillip Island. A cool, brisk wind threatened to force riders off line in the corners of the fastest track on the calendar, but Stoner handled the conditions perfectly.
Stoner’s fast lap of 1m, 29.975s was the only one below 1m,30s. The pole meant that he has now started on the front row in 15 of 16 races this season. And his 11th pole is the most in the MotoGP era and only one behind the all-time record of 12 in one season held by fellow Australian Mick Doohan. The five-time 500cc World Champion, all aboard Hondas, watched qualifying with Stoner’s parents in the Repsol Honda pit box.
Simoncelli is back on the front row for the first time since his home grand prix at Mugello over three months ago. The Italian was near the top for most of the session, but off the front row until putting in his fastest lap with just under three minutes remaining. Simoncelli’s lap of 1m, 30.599s was only .151s behind second fastest Lorenzo. The front row spot was his seventh of the season, including his first two MotoGP poles.
Simoncelli’s leap to third dropped Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) to the second row. Dovizioso and Bautista pushed each other in qualifying, with Bautista finishing in front of by a scant .066s. Still, Dovi was happy for having made a big improvement that would serve him well in Sunday’s race. The change provided better front end feeling, which allowed him to ride more aggressively.
Dani Pedrosa, the third member of the Repsol Honda team, wasn’t able to make the most of the harder compound asymmetric rear tyre, when he fitted the softer one the times improved, but only to a point. The session ended with Pedrosa eighth fastest in the race following his victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Where Pedrosa is suffering is in the high speed changes of direction, which are crucial to get right on the fastest track on the MotoGP calendar, especially on cool, windy days like today. The team had more solutions to try in morning warm-up, after which they would decide which rear tyre to use in the race.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) qualified 12th in a session that was ended prematurely by a crash. The Japanese rider fell in the sixth corner on his 16th lap and didn’t rejoin qualifying. Aoyama hit the ground hard and didn’t feel up to the rigors of riding afterwards, especially given the cold, windy conditions. With a night’s rest, and some improvements to his Honda RC212V in morning warm-up, Aoyama is hopeful of being competitive.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V) wasn’t able to make the most of the fastest motorcycle in qualifying. His LCR Honda RC212V clocked the fastest top speed of 321.6kph in qualifying, though it couldn’t lift him above the 16th fastest qualifying time.
The Moto2 qualifying session was one of the most unpredictable of the season with rain starting and stopping, and riders doing the same. The rain first began to fall less than ten minutes into the 45-minute session, sending everyone to the cover of their pit boxes after only four laps. At the time, Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing Team-Suter) was on top ahead of Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2-Motobi) and Marc Marquez (Team CaixaCatalunya Repsol-Suter), the world championship leader whose qualifying performance mattered more than his position.
Regardless of where he finished, Marquez was going to have to start from the back row after being penalised for a crash in Friday morning qualifying. Marquez was on the cooldown lap when he ran into the back of Thai rider Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda Singha SAG-FTR). Marquez was unhurt, though he heavily damaged his latest Suter chassis. Wilairot spent the night in a local hospital before being released with no serious injuries. Marquez was given a penalty of one minute added to his qualifying time.
With 25 minutes remaining, the riders went back out, but only for about seven minutes when the rain began to fall anew, only this time hard enough that it might have coated the track for the duration. But with about five minutes left the riders ventured out on a track drying quickly with the help of stiff winds.
The final few minutes were a furious rush of changes at the top, with Redding losing the spot to Mattia Pasini (Ioda Racing Project-FTR) with 20 seconds to go. Twenty seconds later Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex) went to the top, but for less than ten seconds when he was taken down by Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP-Suter). But the session wasn’t over. Less than ten seconds on de Angelis set the session’s fast lap on his 12th lap take his second career Moto2 pole position. The last time de Angelis took the pole was here at Phillip Island, and he went on to win the race.
Mike di Meglio (Tech 3 Racing-Tech 3) was second at .088s with Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing Moto2-Moriwaki) jumping up to third after time had expired and only .010s behind di Meglio.
The front row was covered by .125s and the first nine riders by .384s in what promises to be a very competitive Moto2 final.
Marquez didn’t go out for the final rush, finishing with a time of 1m, 35.298s, which would have put him 12th fastest had he not been penalised. Instead, he’ll start 38th.
Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Repsol Honda Team)
Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)
Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda RC212V: Pole position – 1m, 29.975s
“So far so good. We have a good race pace and the bike's feeling pretty good at the moment. We still need to improve the rear grip, but I think this is the same for everyone. We'd also like to get the harder rear tyre working better for the race. We began qualifying with older tyres to understand where we are for the race and I'm quite happy, as the lap times we were achieving were similar to Jorge (Lorenzo) and Dani (Pedrosa), who were on the new soft tyre. Then we put on the soft tyre for the first time since yesterday morning, everything felt good and we were able to improve our lap time consistently. But it's still difficult on the left side of the tyre and we're getting a lot of spinning and tyre degradation. We'll see what the weather does tomorrow. It's not looking too good right now, but we'll adapt to whatever it throws at us. Jorge is strong everywhere we go and I think my chances of taking the championship here tomorrow are pretty slim to be honest. We're just going to go out there and concentrate on winning the race.”
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 3rd – 1m, 30.599s
“I am really happy because it has been a while since we started on the front row. We have been fast over the past two days although we have had a few crashes too. The day didn't start well because of the conditions, which were cold and windy, and that made it difficult. This afternoon we managed to do a better job and enjoyed an excellent qualifying session, so my goal tomorrow is to push to the maximum from the start. Stoner looks untouchable at the moment but in racing you can never say never.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda RC212V: 5th – 1m, 30.780s
“I'm very happy with qualifying because we made a big improvement which we needed to do for the race. We know there are many riders capable to fight for the podium, but now we are ready. Here it is always a very difficult race with the weather conditions, but I'm satisfied now because I can do low 1'31 laps with the hard rear tyre and hopefully we can return back on the podium. I had a much better feeling in the front and I was riding more aggressively, something you really need at this track.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda RC212V: 8th – 1m, 30.871s
“I had some problems with the hard tyre and I wasn't able to be fast. Then when I put the soft on I improved my lap time a lot and was on top with fifteen minutes to go. Then we changed the setup of the bike a little and unfortunately it didn't work, so when everybody improved the lap time I couldn't and I was back to eighth place. The main issue I had today was changing direction in high speed areas. Let's see what the weather brings tomorrow and if we can take profit from the warm-up to improve the setup slightly. I'm feeling much more comfortable with the soft tyre, so we will see tomorrow if we can use it for the race or not depending on the temperature and weather conditions.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 12th - 1m, 31.889s
“Unfortunately when I went out to improve my position on the starting grid I crashed at turn six and that compromised the whole session. It was a violent impact and I decided not to go back out because I didn't feel in the best shape. The cold and wind did not help us to work as we wanted today, but even though I had more confidence yesterday, the set-up is not bad. I hope the weather improves tomorrow so that I can have a good grand prix.”
Toni Elias, LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V: 16 – 1m, 32.503s.
“Compared to yesterday the conditions were a bit tricky with cooler temperature and stronger wind and it seems we could not get the feeling we had yesterday in warmer conditions. After that we got some issues in turn one and turn eight just about front feeling and we have been working on that this afternoon trying to fix the problem but we could not really improve. I am still convinced we have got the potential to race in the top-10 so in tomorrow’s warm up session we will try to fix the bike and, as always, I have to take a good start from the back of the pack”.
Alex de Angelis, JiR Moto2 – Motobi: Pole position – 1m, 34.574s
“It has been a pretty unusual day, but in the end it was a success. We’ve been strongly performing for the whole weekend. Yesterday we had found the ideal setup and today's work has confirmed this condition. The qualifying session was difficult from a standpoint of time management, but we hit the right time to get back on track at the end of the session to try to make the last few minutes and it went very well. I'm happy for pole position but also because we're in a very good shape. My Motobi gives me excellent feeling both with the soft and the hard tyre and this leaves us many options open for the race. Competition is fierce, we know, but this is my favourite track and given the state of the form in which the machine and I are in, we can – and we must – aim very high.”
Mike di Meglio, Tech 3 Racing - Tech 3: 2nd – 1m, 34.662s
“I am really happy to be on the front row because it has been a very difficult season. But together with my team we have never stopped giving our maximum effort to improve and today is a big reward for all that hard work. We managed to improve the bike from this morning and in the end it all worked out well because it was a very difficult session and made complicated by the rain. I was much faster immediately in qualifying but then the rain came and it was frustrating having to sit in the pits because the track wasn’t wet enough for rain tyres. But it was too risky to go out on slicks. We managed to get out for one last exit at the end and I had a good feeling with the bike, even though the track was a little damp and the wind was blowing very hard. That made riding very difficult but I pushed at my maximum and almost grabbed pole position. Second is still a fantastic result and I hope to be fighting at the front in the race tomorrow.”
Yuki Takahashi, Gresini Racing Moto2 – Moriwaki: 3rd, 1m, 34.689s
”I am happy because we made the right choice at the right time and managed a front row start, which is important for me and the team. The conditions today were particularly tricky and we spent most of the session in the box until the rain ceased, then we went out and gave it everything. It is a nice feeling and starting from this position should give me the chance to have a good race tomorrow.”