The 2011 MotoGP World Championship will begin with Honda riders on the first two spots of the grid following a dominant performance in final qualifying under the desert lights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) continued the strong form he’s shown throughout winter testing and this inaugural race weekend by taking the season’s first MotoGP pole in the one hour session, held late on Saturday evening. Stoner, who was fastest in all three free practice sessions, lapped the 5.380k circuit in 1m, 54.137s.. The lap was fastest of all by a comfortable .205s as Stoner continues to showcase his ability to adapt the machine which he first rode at the end of last season.
Though the lap wasn’t the fastest qualifying mark ever, it was the fastest of the control tyre era and not far from the outright mark set in the last year of qualifying tyres.
The pole was the 23rd of Stoner’s MotoGP career, his 27th overall, and his second in the MotoGP class aboard a Honda. His first came at this track in 2006 in only his second MotoGP race.
Second on the grid is Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V), the Spaniard who’s been the only rider to keep Stoner honest this week. Pedrosa was second to Stoner in all three practice sessions and led Friday’s final 45-minute practice until Stoner went faster in the closing stages. Still, the two Repsol Honda riders have been so consistently fast that many of their rivals have admitted that beating them in Sunday’s curtain-raiser will be difficult.
Stoner and Pedrosa had a thrilling back and forth battle in the closing stages of the session that went to Stoner, though Pedrosa is quite strong and the speed of the two riders has them in a class by themselves.
Second year MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) will start his second season from the fourth spot on the grid after coming within .041s of his first front row start. The Italian, who has full factory machinery, wasn’t confident ahead of qualifying based on Friday’s practice, but after adjustments by the team to the race set-up, he was able to pick up the pace. His only concern was fuel consumption on a track with a very long straightaway and a number of hard accelerating corner exits.
The third member of the Repsol Honda team, Andrea Dovizioso, wanted to join his team-mates on the front row before ultimately qualifying on the row three pole. The problem was with his qualifying tyre, which he didn’t make the most of, though on race rubber he was confident of being able to challenge for a podium. The one area that needed improvement was stability under braking, which he planned to address in tomorrow night’s "morning" warm-up.
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) made his MotoGP debut here last year by qualifying tenth fastest, two spots higher than today’s mark. He wasn’t happy with that position, but believes his race set-up will suit the nighttime race. Aoyama was on his way to improving his grid spot before hitting traffic that denied him the chance.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP) had a difficult evening in his first MotoGP qualifying session in more than a year. The 2010 Moto2 World Champion has struggled to find rear tyre grip throughout the pre-season and those struggles continued here this weekend. Complicating matters is that the Losail circuit is set in the desert, with gusting winds often blowing fine sand onto the racing surface, which was uncommonly cool this evening.
The top three riders in Moto2 were a mixture of young and more young, and vastly superior to the remainder of the 39-rider field.
Earning his first ever pole position was Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex), the son of former 250cc World Championship runner-up Helmut Bradl. Bradl was fast here last year, but was involved in a collision on the first lap of the first ever Moto2 race when he and Alex de Angelis high-sided in turn three after de Angelis had machine problems. Bradl said he wanted to put that incident behind him and concentrate on this race, which he’ll begin with a slight advantage over Marc Marquez following his lap of 2m, 01.68s.
Marquez (Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol-Suter), the 125cc World Champion, was impressive in his Moto2 debut. The young Spaniard made Bradl work for his pole position, while showing that he’d instantly adapted to the larger, Honda-powered four-stroke. The grid position wasn’t that surprising since Marquez has been fast from the start of Moto2 testing. The protégé of Emilio Alzamora was on provisional pole when Bradl stole it from him in the last five minutes. Still, second in his first Moto2 race is heady stuff.
Swiss rider Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) finished .621s behind Marquez to complete the new front row makeup. Starting with this race, the grids of all grand prix classes are three across, which MotoGP has been for some time. It was the gap behind him that was more noteworthy. Luthi had over a second on fourth fastest Yuki Takahashi.
MotoGP Rider Quotes:
Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda: 1st - 1m, 54.137s: "We can't ask for a much better weekend, everything has gone well and the team have made all the right steps and gradually improved the bike as the weekend progressed. Tonight I was able to achieve good, consistent lap times again on the hard tyre and this is important for the race tomorrow. As ever, we will keep our feet on the ground as we've had good starts to seasons in the past and then they haven't played out as expected, we just need to keep working and ensure that we continue to progress. We've done all our homework and the best job possible, now I just want to get the season started."
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 2nd - 1m, 54.342s "The weekend has been very good for us so far, I've been running at the top in every session and I'm very happy to be on the front row in Losail for the first time; this is a big improvement for me. Nevertheless, we have to focus on the race, Casey is running very fast, also Lorenzo is improving very quickly, so we have to focus making no mistakes tomorrow. I don't know yet if the race will be a fight between Casey and myself. We've never run at 10:00 pm, so I hope the bike works well after 125 cc and Moto2 races. I want to prepare as best as possible for tomorrow and be ready to be consistent for 22 laps. The race will be fast, I guess, so we will need to maintain a high pace. I hope I will be able to do it and fight for the victory."
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 4th - 1m, 54.988s "Today went well and I'm happy because after practice yesterday I never thought about the fourth time. In this round we have made some small changes and we went a lot better in race trim. Then on the "dry" lap I have been strong and I came within .041s of the front row. I'm still a bit concerned about fuel consumption, but we will still talk about it before the race. In any case, starting from the front is already quite an advantage and that will allow me to consume less fuel. Of course the two who have gone ahead are very strong and will dispute the race between themselves, but I will fight for a position of prestige."
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda:, 7th - 1m, 55.229s "I’m disappointed with the third row, I need to improve the use of the soft tyre for a better qualifying. The positive point is that we have a good pace to fight for a podium spot, this is our target tomorrow. We will work during the warm up to improve the set up to get more stability at the beginning of the braking and I hope to gain more confidence and find a good stability in the front. For the race it will be very important to have a good start and arrive at turn 1 close to the first riders. It is impossible to catch Casey, I will try to maintain contact with Dani, Lorenzo and Spies. It’s important to start the season with a good result and I will give everything in the race."
Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 12th - 1m, 55.724s "The position that I have won on the grid is not fantastic, but in race trim I feel OK. Of course I would favor starting further ahead, but I'm still pretty confident. Unfortunately in the last minute the track was very busy and I could not improve. In any case we are confident for the race and I feel prepared to make a good result."
Toni Elias, LCR Honda MotoGP: 16th - 1m, 57.992s: "Basically we have tried different chassis geometries and different suspension but whatever we tried we get stuck on the same lap time and this is very frustrating for me. We are struggling a lot, more than I was expecting, but we still have 20 minutes tomorrow to adjust the bike. I want to thank the team for their good job and I will continue to do my best."
Moto2 Rider Quotes.
Stefan Bradl, Viessmann Kiefer Racing - Kalex: 1st - 2m, 0.168s "We found a good set-up in the last test in Jerez and we can continue like this in the beginning of the free practice, so I’m very happy about this. We are really consistent, we are really competitive at the beginning of the practice, also at the end and with the used tyres now in the warm-up, so everything is working quite well at the moment, so, yeah, just make a good start for tomorrow and we will see. Anyway, I think it will be very hard for tomorrow, because the gap is not too big any more, so we have to concentrate. But still the bike is doing a job, I enjoy riding, so I’m looking forward for tomorrow."
Marc Marquez, Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol - Suter: 2nd - 2m, 0.375s "The truth is we are really happy. I feel more and more comfortable on the bike, mainly thanks to my mechanics, who are doing an incredible job. To start from the first row in our first Moto2 Grand Prix is a very good result and I will do my best tomorrow. We still have to see how the bike works in race conditions and with a full tank, but I hope I will be able to have a good start. In Moto2 the start is a bit more complicated, but I hope everything goes well. We are gathering experience and that's the most important thing."
Thomas Luthi, Interwetten Paddock, Moto2 - Suter: 3rd - 2m, 0.996s "The basic problem is that I was saving my tyres yesterday, as I didn’t have a big amount. I didn’t know that more tyres were going to be flown in or I would have pushed harder. My lap times compared to yesterday were better, but I was sliding a lot and need to find a solution for the race."