Fortuna Yamaha Team pair Marco Melandri and Carlos Checa substantially improved their Friday provisional qualifying times in virtually perfect conditions during this afternoon's final qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. Both Melandri and Checa put up a hard fight in the effort to clinch a strong start for tomorrow's main event and eventually finished seventh and ninth respectively, after the final ten-minute qualifying reshuffle.
Twenty-one-year-old Melandri made a big improvement over his Friday performance by 1.400 seconds with a lap time of 1'31.227. The young Italian and his crew rectified some of the grip issues he suffered from yesterday during hard braking and acceleration. Melandri contributed some of the improvement to the chassis' overall suspension balance but felt that the main gain came from improved throttle response and slightly modified gearbox ratios.
"I'm very happy," said Melandri, who won the 250cc World Championship at the Phillip Island circuit last year. "Since yesterday we've changed the chassis setting slightly and improved my confidence with the front. This is really important at this circuit because of the high speeds here. My team have worked so hard and I'm really grateful. The rear grip felt better today and I can use the throttle more than yesterday. I found a good rhythm this afternoon and think I can find a good pace for the race. I'm happy."
In an effort to improve on yesterday's performance, Checa opted for a modified chassis geometry today, which eventually proved less effective than initially hoped. Despite the slight setback the Spaniard still made a 0.252 second improvement on his provisional time, setting a fastest lap time of 1' 31.302. Checa is confident that his Friday package, to which the team will revert, will be competitive during the main event tomorrow.
"We've changed so many things today but basically didn't improve," said a philosophically upbeat Checa. "My mistake was to not go back to yesterday's setting today, as I was more confident with that. We will now go back to that setting for tomorrow. I still think I can make a good race with the pace and confidence I had yesterday, as long as it's dry. If not of course it will be a different story! We tried something different today but didn't improve but that's normal, sometimes you improve from changes, sometimes you don't."
Team Director Davide Brivio said, "Marco had a good improvement today compared to yesterday, not only his lap times but also his pace. I think he can do well tomorrow if it doesn't rain. Carlos is there as well, and I think both can do a good job at this circuit. Both of their crews have made quite a few changes to the bikes this weekend and both have improved their times since yesterday."
Following on from his Friday provisional pole position, recently crowned MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda) produced an electrifying lap of 1'30.068 to clinch pole. Rossi also demolished the 2002 circuit fastest lap of 1'31.919 set by Jeremy McWilliams (KR). Loris Capirossi (Ducati, 1' 30.496), Sete Gibernau (Honda, 1'30.676) and Australian Troy Bayliss (Ducati, 1'30.683) completed the front row.
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'30.068
2. Loris Capirossi (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'30.496
3. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Telefonica Movistar HONDA 1'30.676
4. Troy Bayliss (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'30.683
7. MARCO MELANDRI (ITA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'31.227
9. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'31.302