Rossi holds onto pole in MotoGP scorcher
Torrid heat stops three of top four riders from improving on their Friday times
Conditions similar to tropical Malaysian Grand Prix, say Michelin technicians
Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) secured his fourth pole position of the season in searing-hot conditions at Catalunya this afternoon, holding on to pole ahead of Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin), Olivier Jacqu e (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin). Michelin riders dominated in the heat, filling the top nine places on the grid, those nine men covered by just 0.921 seconds.
But conditions were so extreme -- ambient temperature reaching 38 degrees and the track a burning 55 degrees -- that three of the men on the front row were unable to better their times from yesterday's cooler opening qualifying session. Rossi, Capirossi and Gibernau all recorded their quickest times on Friday, Jacque the star performer of today as he leapt up from tenth yesterday to third today.
"The track conditions we're experiencing today are similar to what we experience on a hot day at Sepang," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions, referring to the tropical Malaysian GP. "Some of the teams have already chosen what tyres they will run tomorrow, and some of them will run medium-hard compounds. It will be a really tough race for the riders, and since the high temperatures mean that the track offers less grip, I think we might not break the race record. We'v e broken most race records this year, but it might be just too hot for that here."
World Championship leader Rossi got to within 0.3 seconds of his Friday best, enough to give him confidence for the race, which is expected to be run in similarly scorching conditions. "It was so hot out there that I found it impossible to go faster than yesterday, but I'm happy I got so close," he said. "This track loses a lot of grip in the heat, so we're getting a lot of wheelspin. I will make my final race-tyre choice after warm-up tomorrow -- it will be a very important choice."
Capirossi's front-row slot is his fifth in succession, a remarkable performance from him and MotoGP rookies Ducati. "It should be a fun race to watch!" said the Italian. "There's a lot of long corners here through which you need to carry a lot of corner speed, which means you're using the very edge of the tyre, so we're getting sideways a lot of the time. This afternoon we did some more laps on race tyres which we'd already used, to get an idea of tyre endurance for the race."
Jacque was delighted with his first four-stroke front-row start. The Frenchman chased Rossi for his best lap, proving that he's feeling more and more at home on his M1. "I could chase Valentino for one lap, but maybe not all race," grinned Jacque, who chopped over a second off his previous best to beat Gibernau by eight thousandths. "All we have to do now is sit down with Michelin to choose our race tyres."
Gibernau was happy enough to achieve his front-row target, though he's still looking for more speed. "We have more things to try in morning warm-up because I'd like to get some more race pace," said the Catalan rider. "There's not much grip out there, and we've been having some chatter too."
Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) bounced back from his minor tumble during yesterday's opening qualifier to improve to fifth, 0.276 seconds off the first row. He was just three hundredths ahead of fellow M1 rider Shinya Nakano (D'Antin Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin), who had been fourth yesterday. Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin) moved up to fifth at one stage of the session but found himself back in seventh at the end of the hour, exactly where he'd been yesterday. L ocal Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) completed row two in eighth.