Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Championship leader secures tenth pole position of the season
Casey Stoner stormed to his tenth pole position of 2011 during today’s qualifying session for round 15 of the MotoGP championship at the Grand Prix of Japan that takes place at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. Stoner will start tomorrow’s race ahead of main championship rival Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) and his Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso.
Stoner was the fastest in this morning’s Free Practice 3 session and was also his usual self during the qualifying session with his customary short runs registering quicker and quicker times throughout the hour and he would eventually record a fastest and record shattering lap of 1m 45.267s. The Australian’s pole position time was unreachable by Lorenzo whose time of 1m 45.523s was leading the way in the dying minutes before Stoner grabbed it back for himself. Dovizioso rode steadily to take the last spot on the front row with a best time of 1m 45.791s.
Tomorrow will be a tough race, but the team is working hard and we'll do our best.
"Everything has gone very well so far this weekend, we've been fastest in all but one session so it's been fantastic,” said the 2007 MotoGP champion who continued, “We tried a few different settings this afternoon and didn't really improve so we'll probably go back to this morning's setting for tomorrow. We'll have to watch the weather, as this will affect the set up, there's also a chance of rain so it could get complicated.
“Jorge has been riding fantastic, as has Dovi and Dani, but there is no doubt that the Honda suits this track, I've been looking forward to riding it here for a while now and I'm not disappointed! Tomorrow will be a tough race, but the team is working hard and we'll do our best,” Stoner added.
Lorenzo was very happy with his performance today and was even more content with the changes made to his bike that enabled him to get very close to Stoner. “We tried something different this afternoon and our lap times were unbelievable, we almost got pole! The most important thing is the first row because there are riders like Casey who find it easy to escape so I want to be right there. We have improved today but Motegi is still a tough track for Yamaha riders,” said the reigning World Champion while adding, “If the other riders do a perfect race it is almost impossible to win, but anything can happen. Now I can say I am ready for the battle and we will put on a good show for all the Japanese fans who have come to see us race!”
Dovizioso is still undecided on whether he will take a deal from LCR Honda or the Tech 3 squad to ride for in 2012 and his strong performance today will make his bargaining position even better. The Italian said, "I'm very happy to be on the front row here in Motegi! This afternoon we improved again from this morning and I feel very confident, especially under braking. We still haven't decided on the tyre for tomorrow as we are good on both compounds but I feel positive for the race and for the fight for the podium tomorrow. I'm really happy with the work of the team and the Honda is working really well at this track, I think tomorrow we will have a great race!"
The top place on the timing sheets was shared between a number of riders during the hour-long session with the Stoner’s teammate Dani Pedrosa also leading the way for a time but the Spaniard would eventually have to settle for 4th place on the grid for tomorrow’s race after registering his best lap of 1m 45.966s.
Ben Spies, who has been battling hard with a bout of food poisoning for the last few days managed to secure 5th on the grid for his Yamaha Factory Racing squad on a time of 1m 46.042s. The final space on the second row was claimed by Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) who set a time of 1m 46.211s despite crashing during the session.
Ducati Marlboro rider Valentino Rossi has turned his fortunes around somewhat this weekend and in qualifying the seven-time MotoGP champion was sitting in 6th place for a good portion of the session but his best time of 1m 46.467s sees him start from 7th tomorrow despite running on into the gravel late in the session. Rossi was followed into 8th by Rizla Suzuki rider Alvaro Bautista who set a best time of 1m 46.586s ahead of fellow Spaniard Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) after setting his best time of 1m 46.694s.
Nicky Hayden took the last place in the top ten on his Ducati Marlboro GP11.1 setting a best time of 1m 46.763s while Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) will start tomorrow’s race in 11th place on front of his home fans (1m 46.811s.) Cal Crutchlow sits in 12th place after registering his best lap of 1m 46.818s while Frenchman Randy de Puniet (Pramac Racing) starts from 13th place tomorrow with a time of 1m 46.917s.
Colin Edwards took a tumble into the gravel halfway through the session and despite his best efforts he couldn’t go faster than a 1m 47.165s lap to give him 14th place ahead of Cardion AB Motoracing rider Karel Abraham (1m 47.922s). Toni Elias sits in 16th place on a best time of 1m 48.169s ahead of the three newcomers to this year’s championship - Kousuke Akiyoshi who is a wildcard entry for LCR Honda and finished the session in 17th place setting a best lap of 1m 48.367 ahead of substitute rider for Pramac Racing’s Loris Capirossi; Damian Cudlin of Australia in 18th on a best time of 1m 48.962s and ahead of 19th and last place man Shinichi Ito for the Honda Racing Team with a best lap of 1m 49.971s.