Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Spaniard takes his first pole of the 2012 season during action packed session
Dani Pedrosa claimed his first pole position of the new 1000cc MotoGP class during qualifying for the Monster Energy grand Prix de France at Le Mans ahead of his Repsol Honda teammate Casey Stoner and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Andrea Dovizioso taking his first front row start for the French squad in third position.
I'm not a pole man, so I'm happy to be here for the first time this season.
Pedrosa leaped into pole position not far from the end of the session that saw damp conditions dominate the first half hour and many of the normal frontrunners sitting in the middle and lower placings. With riders starting the session on full wet rubber, the weather forecast for the session predicted drying conditions throughout making for an exciting hour of qualifying practice on front of the French fans.
The early stages saw many of the CRT machines sitting in unfamiliar positions on the timing screens with the majority of the factory riders opting not to push for a fast time. Names like Avintia Blusens teammates Yonny Hernandez and Ivan Silva along with Mattia Pasini (Speed Master) were all willing to push in the wet conditions leaving them in some of the top positions in the first 30 minutes. Ducati Factory Racing men Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi were also pushing for a fast time on wet tires and MotoGP rookie Stefan Bradl sat in pole position at one stage for the LCR Honda team.
When the second half of the session approached it was Bradl who decided to try out full slicks on the still-drying Le Mans circuit and the German paid the price when he high-sided from his RC213V on just his first flying lap but was able to get back to the pits and rejoin the session a little later. The rest of the riders then slowly started to go on track with their slick tires and it wasn’t long before the factory riders began to push through to their accustomed positions.
Stoner was first to push through to pole in his usual devastating fashion setting a time nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else in the session on just his first lap with slick rubber. Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo was also fast on his YZR-M1 as was both Dovizioso and teammate Cal Crutchlow on the satellite Yamahas. While ‘Dovi’ continued to push and taking pole for a brief time before Stoner grabbed it back, it was Pedrosa who popped up near the end of the session to set a best lap of 1m 33.638s and good enough for his first pole of 2012.
Pedrosa was vey happy with his qualifying session but he and his team are expecting a race in uncertain weather conditions. "I'm not a pole man, so I'm happy to be here for the first time this season," said the Spaniard who continued, "front row is always good and the team has done a great job with the bike. It's been a difficult session, quite similar to Jerez, the track was drying up but we had some drops again in the last five minutes. So it's been key to choose the right moment to push and to not get out of the line. Let's see what the weather does tomorrow but we have to be ready to go fast in any conditions. The race is very long here, 28 laps, and everything can change during the race, so I hope to have a good start and to be able to keep a good pace until the end".
Stoner remained in second with his best lap of 1m 33.941s with Dovizioso a blink of an eye behind the Australian with his best time of 1m 33.976s. Lorenzo had to content himself with a 4th place start tomorrow setting a 1m 34.104s lap time with Crutchlow continuing his good form of 2012 in 5th place (1m 34.178s). Ben Spies did well to get his Yamaha Factory Racing machine on the second row after languishing in the lower half of the timings until the final quarter with the American on a best lap of 1m 34.669s.
Stoner said after the qualifying session that he might have been able to keep pole position if it wasn't for the unpredictable conditions. He said, "We're really happy to be on front row, but qualifying definitely didn't go to plan. The track was drying out and we knew we had the pace, you just had to be a little cautious in some areas that were still holding water. We felt we were fast enough to be on pole position but every time I was on a good lap or building up to one, I got held up. I tried to drop back and give myself some space but I still managed to catch up to a CRT bike in front of me which ruined that lap. Then the next lap we were doing pretty well but I saw yellow flags and rain so I backed off, unfortunately the rain wasn't heavy enough to upset my lap and I could have continued it, but that's the way it goes sometimes.
I think we're looking good for the race, we're pre tty comfortable in dry conditions but we still have warm up and a chance for the others to find something extra, so we're going to have to improve our bike a little also and wait for the race as the weather conditions are still unpredictable," Stoner added.
Dovizioso is very happy with his performance today and revealed he could have gone for pole if it weren't for a problem with his bike in the dying minutes of the session. "I am really happy to be on the front row for the first time with Tech 3 and Yamaha, We have done a great job all weekend. I have been fast in every session and even in the tricky conditions at the start of qualifying I was very competitive and strong and the times were coming really easily. I am particularly happy to be on the front row because a small problem meant I was not able to be on track for the final five minutes of the session. That is the period when you improve your time and it was a pity that I couldn't battle in the final stages because I'm sure I had a chance of getting pole position.
So to be on the front row despite not riding in the last five minutes is fantastic and I am very confident for the race tomorrow. I'm sure I have the pace to stay at the front and I am very happy to be on the front in the Tech 3 Team's home race. I will do my best for Tech 3 and our main sponsor and event sponsor Monster," Dovizioso said.
Rossi looked considerably more comfortable on his Ducati GP12 today than he has in the first three races of 2012 and the seven-times MotoGP World Champion starts from the front of the third row tomorrow setting a time of 1m 34.907s and one place ahead of San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista who set a best time of 1m 34.922s with Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera in 9th (1m 34.950s). Karel Abraham (1m 35.250s) took the final place in the top ten for the Cardion AB Motoracing squad ahead of Hayden (1m 35.291s) and best of the CRT machines in Randy de Puniet (Power Electronics Aspar) in 12th with a best lap time of (1m 35.694s).
Bradl did enough to get into 13th place after his crash eventually setting his best of (1m 35.862s) while the San Carlo Honda Gresini CRT machine of Michele Pirro starts from 14th with his best qualifying effort of 1m 36.646s ahead of Hernandez (1m 37.202s) and James Ellison and the Paul Bird Motorsport team (1m 37.666s). Aleix Espargaro (Power Electronics Aspar) starts from 17th with his best lap of (1m 37.760s) while Danilo Petrucci starts from 18th (1m 37.767s) and one place ahead of Pasini who was going well early on only to fall off the pace later in the session with his best of (1m 38.198s) and the final place going to Chris Vermeulen (NGM Forward Racing) who is deputizing for injured Colin Edwards (1m 38.658s)