Rossi Second Fastest on Opening Day, Checa Close Behind
Valentino Rossi showed the speed and intimate track knowledge that has made him the only man to win in every contemporary MotoGP category at Mugello by taking second spot on the provisional front row. Carlos Checa, his Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team-mate, followed on from his second place finish at the Le Mans Grand Prix three weeks ago with a fifth best lap time at the classically sculpted Mugello circuit in Tuscany.
With one dry session of free qualifying completed in the morning, the speeds and times were quick from the very start of this afternoon’s qualifying session, and the Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha riders were sitting in first and second places only ten minutes in. Rossi had set a time of 1’51.541s and Checa 1’54.653s, with 50 minutes left to run. At that early stage Rossi was only 0.3 seconds from his own best ever fastest lap of 1’51.258s, a time he later improved to 1’49.961s. Other than Sete Gibernau (Honda), who set a new track record time of 1’49.553s, Rossi was the only rider to break into the 1’49s bracket.
Gibernau initially chopped his way to the lead with half an hour remaining to run and Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) split the pairing of Rossi and Checa with only 19 minutes left, going third fastest. The customary flurry of qualifying tyre changes and intense effort from the 25-strong MotoGP grid in the last few minutes of qualifying placed Rossi an eventual second, sharing the provisional front row with Gibernau and his Italian countryman Max Biaggi (Honda). Marco Melandri rode his Yamaha M1 to fourth spot with Checa fifth, setting a personal best lap of 1’50.954s on the way.
One qualifying session remains for each Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha rider to improve their set-up and start positions for Sunday’s 23-lap MotoGP race.
VALENTINO ROSSI (2nd, 1'49.961)
"My time was pretty fast, better than last year, but still not enough because Sete went faster. I have put myself in quite a good place, so I am quite happy. We’ve already improved the bike a lot this morning and again this afternoon. Sete is on top form; so to be more competitive I still need to improve my general set-up. My pace feels quite good but I’m sure we can improve. We’re having some problems with the rear and the last corner is where we need to make the biggest improvement to suit the racetrack. There is more pressure here in Mugello than anywhere else, so to get a top result this weekend would be the ultimate satisfaction."
CARLOS CHECA (5th, 1'50.954)
"With qualifying tyres I have been able to improve my lap time at the end but not as I expected. We expected to improve more and we couldn’t. For the race I feel not so bad, we are still working, and we have time tomorrow. We need to work on a race tyre over distance to make preparations for the race itself. I am satisfied with the work we did but at the end you must be 100% focused, have the bike and the tyre correct and maybe at some points we lost a few tenths and I couldn’t improve the time. From the first Valentino has had a big difference and we have to work on that tomorrow. The times are faster than ever but last year we couldn’t improve the times from 2002. Maybe this is just the different track conditions at work, or maybe improvements in the tyres. It wasn’t a surprise as such but it was not so difficult to get good lap times right away."
DAVIDE BRIVIO, GAULOISES FORTUNA YAMAHA TEAM DIRECTOR
"I think the improvements in lap time are impressive already because it’s only Friday. Valentino finished not so far from Gibernau but that was just one lap of qualifying in any case. We are working with both riders to make improvements and there is some room for them. I think the pace they are going at is a good pace; we just need to carry out some fine-tuning. Both Carlos and Valentino were towards the front in the whole session, part of the top package. They are going their own way in set-up and they each have a base. We are going forward with small adjustments, without changing too much."