Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
Yamaha Factory Racing rider grabs top spot in the final minutes of qualifying
Jorge Lorenzo stormed to pole position during qualifying today on his Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1 ahead of the bwin.com Grand Prix of Spain at Jerez with fellow countryman Dani Pedrosa taking second on his Repsol Honda RC213V with Nicky Hayden putting in a great effort for the factory Ducati team to take third place.
Weather conditions played a big part during the hour-long session with a drying track at the start that first saw Pedrosa’s teammate Casey Stoner swapping times for pole position with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Cal Crutchlow and both riders continued to trade lap times for the first quarter of the session.
The tricky conditions on-track during qualifying saw a number of riders crashing early on including Yonny Hernandez on the Avintia Blusens FTR-Kawasaki machine and Michele Pirro for the San Carlo Honda Gresini CRT effort. The track conditions would continue to change during the session and caught a lot of riders out including some of the top riders.
We are very happy with this pole position because it was a strange session.
Stoner and Crutchlow continued to set the pace at the front of the field for the first 20 minutes of the session before Pedrosa showed his true pace to move into pole position. It would also take nearly 30 minutes before Lorenzo began to improve on his lap times while there were also fast laps being registered from a number of riders but none could get near there the times of the Repsol Honda riders or Lorenzo and Crutchlow.
Black clouds began to roll in with just over half the session to go and light rain began to catch some of the riders out including Stoner who nearly crashed at turn one and Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) who also did well to hang onto his machine. The pace slowed somewhat for a short period while the teams looked on to see which way the weather would go but as fast as the rain began to fall it had gone away once again.
The improvement in the conditions paved the way for a hectic second half of the session with Stoner, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Crutchlow all bettering each other’s times before the British rider crashed putting him out of the hunt for pole position but luckily unhurt. CRT rider Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing) also crashed near the halfway point but the American walked away unhurt.
The final third of the session saw Crutchlow and Stoner fall away from the fight for pole leaving Pedrosa and Lorenzo to battle for the top spot and the Spanish riders thrilled the partisan crowd all cheering both men on. While two fastest men were entertaining the crowds, another Spanish rider in the form of Hector Barbera crashed while doing his best to set a fast time. Barbera was unhurt and remounted for the final part of the session.
Hayden was fast throughout the session but it wasn’t until near the end that he began eating into the times of the front men and went into third position with not much of the hour left but fellow American Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing) stepped up his pace near the end and moved ahead of Hayden for a short time until the Ducati rider cemented his front-row start much to the delight of his pit crew with a best time of 1m 40.563s.
Pedrosa and Lorenzo continued to thrill the fans right to the end with both riders going fastest each time they crossed the start/finish line but in the end it was Lorenzo who grabbed pole with a best lap of 1m 39.532s to loud cheers from the crowds who were also very happy to see Pedrosa also on the front row with a best lap time of 1m 39.667s.
Lorenzo was very happy with his first pole position of the year saying, "We are very happy with this pole position because it was a strange session. There were a lot of water patches and it was very dangerous. You had to pay a lot of attention, it would have been easy to crash and get injured. Anyway we start in first position so let’s see what happens in the race. Thank you to the team for working hard to keep giving the right set up in changing conditions.”
Pedrosa was equally happy with his performance today, "It's been a really good qualifying session. It was very difficult to know how much to push because there were some wet spots and it was easy to make mistakes. Also after so many laps with wet tyres in the free practices, when you put on the slicks it's like another bike but you have no time to waste to find a good lap time.
So I'm quite impressed with the chrono and very happy to be on the front row. We've been riding well here in Jerez at the test and also during all the practice sessions this weekend, both in the dry and wet, but tomorrow we have to be ready for a tough race in any conditions and I want to have a good race here in front of my fans," Pedrosa added.
Hayden came away from today's qualifying session happy for himself and his team and is focused on making his front row starting position count in tomorrow's race. The 2006 MotoGP Champion said, "To be on the front row is really good for us. The track conditions were quite strange, different compared to what we’ve had the whole weekend. It certainly helped that we tested here in the dry not too long ago, as we had a relatively good base setup. We went out hard right from the gun, because we knew some spots of rain were coming.
I moved up a couple times and thought, ‘Okay, let it rain now,’ but then I’d drop back down and think, ‘Oh, don’t start raining yet.’ It got better near the end, but it was still tough because there were a lot of wet patches on the track, which made it easy to make mistakes. In the end, we took advantage of the strange situation and made the front row, so I’m really happy for my team. Now we’ll try to make it happen when it counts tomorrow," Hayden added.
Crutchlow was back on track following his brief excursion and despite being back on the pace immediately he had to settle for 4th place with his best lap time of 1m 40.570s and ahead of reigning MotoGP World Champion Stoner on the middle of the second row (1m 40.577s) and Spies in 6th on a best lap of 1m 41.090s. The third row is headed up by Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine with a best lap time of 1m 41.180s while in 8th is the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V of Alvaro Bautista with a best time of 1m 41.447s despite a fast crash at turn one in this morning’s wet Free Practice 3 session.
Bradl set a best time of 1m 41.550s and ended up in 9th position despite his crash while making it into the top ten was the Power Electronics Aspar CRT machine of Randy de Puniet with a 1m 41.700s lap. Starting from 11th tomorrow is Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham on a best time of 1m 41.724s while Hector Barbera on the Pramac Racing Ducati starts tomorrow’s race from 12th with a best lap of 1m 41.871s with both satellite Ducati riders ahead of the factory Ducati of Valentino Rossi who once again couldn’t get to grips with his GP12 under dry conditions and the seven-time MotoGP World Champion in 13th position with a best lap of 1m 42.961s.
The CRT machines were up next with Aleix Espargaro (Power Electronics Aspar) in 14th place on a best time of 1m 43.135s while Pirro starts from 15th (1m 43.363s) and Mattia Pasini (Speed Master) 1m 44.308s starting from 16th. Hernandez starts tomorrow’s race in 17th with a best time of 1m 44.467s ahead of Danilo Petrucci and his Came IodaRacing team (1m 44.645s) and Ivan Silva (Avintia Blusens) in 19th with a best time of 1m 44.717s in front of James Ellison and the Paul Bird Motorsport team with his best lap of 1m 45.724s and Edwards bringing up the rear following his crash (1m 46.200s).