Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Current championship leader grabs top spot despite crashing
Casey Stoner shot a message of warning to his championship rivals at today’s qualifying session for the Gran Premio de Aragon in Spain where he grabbed pole by nearly half a second ahead of his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa and an ever-improving Ben Spies for the Yamaha Factory Racing team.
Stoner was his usual super-fast self during the extended practice session this morning due to free practice session 2 being cancelled because of a power cut and he carried this pace through to this afternoon’s hour-long qualifying run where he eventually set a best time of 1m 48.451s with just a 14 minutes of the session left and the Australian could have gone even faster if it wasn’t for running wide on the following lap where he had to dump his RC212V in the gravel in fear of hitting a wall.
It was a very eventful qualifying session for us! Everything has been going very well this weekend...
Speaking about setting his lap record pace and about his trip into the gravel Stoner was in a buoyant mood ahead of tomorrow’s race. "It was a very eventful qualifying session for us! Everything has been going very well this weekend, we have a good feeling with the bike and I'm feeling great,” said the championship leader while continuing, “At the end of the session we put on the soft tyre and on the first lap I was a little too cautious in T1 as I wasn't sure if the tyres were warm enough, then I pushed on the second lap and I had a lot more grip than I expected so I went through the corner much faster and I wasn't able to slow down, I pulled the bike up but it was difficult to reduce the speed and I ended up needing to lay the bike down to avoid the wall.
“Unfortunately, I wasn't able to restart the bike which is a shame as I was happier on that one, but even on the second bike we were able to improve our time. Now we need to see what the weather brings for tomorrow but we're feeling good and I hope for a good race,” Stoner added.
Pedrosa was the only rider to be able to keep in sight of Stoner today but had to settle for second place on the grid setting a time of 1m 48.747s ahead of Ben Spies who got to grips with the Spanish track today to secure a third place start on a time of 1m 49.155s despite being substantially slower yesterday.
Despite grabbing second on front of his home crowd Pedrosa remains focused on the setup of his bike before the race tomorrow, “I'm happy with the first row on the grid. I've pushed to the limit to get a good position and we achieved it, but to be honest we still need to tune the set up of the bike a little, especially in front because I don't feel as comfortable as I'd like to and I'm struggling a little under braking. For the race pace, Casey is quicker than us, he is riding very fast and smooth, so I guess he will set the pace tomorrow and we will need to stay close from the beginning of the race.
Pedrosa added, “I'm still not 100% sure about the tyre choice, the tyres are suffering a lot especially on the left side. In principal, the medium compound should be the right one for the distance, but we need to wait and see how the weather is. Let's hope we can find something else on the setting tonight and have a good race in front of the Spanish fans.”
Spies was happy with his weekend so far saying, “The whole weekend has been pretty good for me, I’m pretty happy with it. We struggled a little bit this morning but the bike’s working really well. We looked over a bit of data and tried to find the best compromise. We found it with 30 minutes to go in qualifying and with the race tyres we were about third or fourth quickest,” he said while adding, “When we put the softer tyres on we were able to go quicker and get on the front row. The crew has done an amazing job to get the bike where it is, we’re just lacking a bit of speed from the front two guys. We’re going to try and challenge for the podium tomorrow.”
Reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo seemed to struggle for setup today on his Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1 and while sitting in a dismal eight position following this mornings practice session he managed to recover somewhat in the afternoon to give him the top spot on the second row with his best time of 1m 49.270s. Joining Lorenzo on the second row is the third of the Repsol Hondas in the form of Andrea Dovizioso (1m 49.372s) who finished just ahead of Marco Simoncelli on the San Carlo Honda Gresini on a time of 1m 49.528s.
Heading up the third row was the factory Ducati Marlboro of Nicky Hayden (1m 49.752s) who got to grips with his machine as the session went on and he will start tomorrow’s race ahead of Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham in eight place with his best lap of 1m 49.777s and in turn the Czech Republic rider starts ahead of Hiroshi Aoyama on the second of the San Carlo Honda Gresini’s (1m 49.813s).
The last spot in the top ten was taken by another Ducati rider, Frenchman Randy de Puniet for the Pramac Racing squad (1m 49.826s) who starts ahead of Alvaro Bautista on the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R with his best lap of 1m 49.883s. The final place on the fourth row was claimed by rookie Cal Crutchlow (1m 49.893s) on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1.
Seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi’s woes continue on what is now a complete hybrid bike incorporating a new aluminum front-end but despite improving the feel on the front, Rossi crashed early on in the session before making it making it back to the pits unhurt to post the 13th fastest time of the session (1m 49.960s).
Rossi starts ahead of Hector Barbera for the Mapfre Aspar team posting a best time of 1m 49.976s and the final spot on the fifth row goes to Colin Edwards and the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team (1m 50.105s). The final two spots on the grid went to Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing) on a time of 1m 50.752s while Toni Elias starts in 17th place for the LCR Honda team with his best time of 1m 51.073s.