Rossi heads ultra-fast first qualifier; top three riders already faster than last year's pole position time; Michelin dominate at quickest track of the year, with fastest 14 riders. World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda ...
Rossi heads ultra-fast first qualifier; top three riders already faster than last year's pole position time; Michelin dominate at quickest track of the year, with fastest 14 riders.
World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) topped this afternoon's opening qualifying session for the fastest GP of the year, but only by a fraction of a second from Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin), Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) and Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin). The quickest three riders were all inside last year's pole time and well inside the lap record, with just 0.544 seconds covering the four men on the provisional front row. The fastest 14 riders were all on Michelin tyres.
Rossi, using an upgraded RCV motor featuring three open exhaust pipes -- two with reverse-cone megaphones and one with a slash-cut pipe -- dominated the outing, Biaggi moving up to second fastest on his final lap, just 0.181 seconds down on hisarch-rival. Catalan GP winner Capirossi was a further two hundredths down, with Barros three tenths slower. Assen is a unique circuit, with a cambered surface and massive grip -- the trick to a fast lap is carrying the maximum-possible speed through the sinuous high-speed sections.
"After this morning's session I was pretty confident we'd beat last year's pole time," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "Last year here we had rain on the second day, so riders never got the chance to reach theirultimate qualifying pace. As always this track is incredibly grippy, and the tyres we bring here are designed to work with that. We have five different rears here, four of which are still being considered as potential race tyres, and three fronts, two of which could be used for the race."
Rossi, Assen winner last year and the current lap record holder, was feeling confident after day one. "The bike feels very stable, very precise and we have very good traction," said the Italian, who has one bike equipped with the improved RCVmotor. "The new engine is very loud, which can make it hard to keep concentration. Tomorrow I'll decide which one I'll use."
Biaggi was happy with his lap times, even though he wants to improve his RCV's chassis set-up. "The bike is too light at the front once again, that's what we need to work on," said the Roman. "Tomorrow I need to make sure I stay on the front row,because the start is difficult here."
Like most riders, Capirossi's main focus is improving his bike's flickability through the fastest of the track's many high-speed direction changes -- in the Ruskenhoek section -- which was modified last year. "The bike is fine around most of thecircuit, but we need to work on the new section," he said. "I need the bike to change direction more quickly."
Barros was also working to adapt his bike's chassis to Assen's peculiar demands. "This track is so different to the others, and we don't have any data for it, so we had to make a lot of changes during the day," said the Brazilian. "However, we'reimproving every time we go out."
Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin), who won both Assen World Superbike races last year on his way to clinching the world title, was flying on his Aprilia triple, leading the second row from Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha TeamYZR-M1-Michelin), Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) and Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin).
Weather forecasts are always a popular topic of conservation at Assen, where unpredictable weather is very much predictable. The last three Dutch TTs have all been affected by rain, and latest forecasts suggest showers for race day.