Pedrosa takes Japanese GP pole in hot Motegi

Dani Pedrosa continues to heat up the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, after leading the two MotoGP practices on Friday, and clinched pole position with ease in the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. "It's been a good weekend so far," Pedrosa said.

Dani Pedrosa continues to heat up the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, after leading the two MotoGP practices on Friday, and clinched pole position with ease in the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

"It's been a good weekend so far," Pedrosa said. "But we still have to do the race, and it's the most important part of the weekend. We'll just try for a good start and hope for a good race, too."

The Spaniard did not waste any time putting down fast laps again today, setting the fastest times in the hot conditions in the first half of the qualifying session.

As times dropped near the end of the session, Randy de Puniet led the challenge to Pedrosa, the Kawasaki rider clocking a time of 1:46.643 to move to the top of the timesheets. Valentino Rossi would have none of it, though, and set a scorching lap time in the dying minutes, four tenths (0.388 seconds) faster than de Puniet.

Pedrosa was not done yet, though, and as the chequered flag flew to mark the end of the session, the Repsol Honda rider thanked his team for the new two-year contract extension with a pole position on Honda's home track. With a gap of 0.391s to Rossi, there really was no question as to who was the master of Motegi in today's qualifying.

Rossi was second with a good result after his setup struggles and engine failure in Friday's sessions. Nicky Hayden pipped into the third spot in the second Repsol Honda after a late flyer bettered De Puniet's time by 0.068 seconds.

"We were struggling a lot (yesterday) but everyone has worked very hard and today has been much, much better," Rossi explained. "We tried some modifications and now I can use the throttle well and the grip from the tyres is good. In fact today the tyre situation is really a lot better and I can use my M1 how I want to, with a good rhythm."

With the two Repsol Hondas and Rossi's Fiat Yamaha, it will be an all-Michelin-shod front row, shutting out Bridgestone in their home grand prix and showing some chinks in the dominant Japanese tire manufacturer's amour.

De Puniet took fourth, and might well have slipped into the front row, too, had he not been balked by a slower Carlos Checa on his final flying lap. Still, fourth -- and fastest among the Bridgestone runners -- is more than creditable for Kawasaki.

"I'm a little bit disappointed because I wanted to be on the first row but it wasn't possible," de Puniet rued the result. "I gave the maximum, and I was still going well on the last lap, but Checa was in front of me and I lost a few tenths so couldn't make it."

His teammate, young Australian Anthony West, will join him on the second row, 0.269 seconds behind his teammate. The two were split by Gresini Honda's Toni Elias, yet another Michelin runner.

"Hopefully it won't be this hot tomorrow because a whole race like this could be very difficult," said West. "At the last few rounds, I've struggled to find the right set up, but here I'm happy with what we've done so I think it could be a good race."

Championship leader Casey Stoner, who has the opportunity to clinch his first MotoGP title this weekend, has not looked strong so far this weekend, and will start the race in ninth place, 1.257 seconds off Pedrosa's pace, and beside his Marlboro Ducati teammate, Loris Capirossi, who edged Stoner by a scant 0.074 seconds.

"Today we couldn't get a good feeling with the bike, no matter what we did," Stoner explained his setup struggles. "I was frustrated because I think we could have improved my time with my second qualifying run but the change we'd made to the setting made braking difficult, so when I came into the last chicane the bike wouldn't go back a gear, so I destroyed the last corner and lost more than half a second."

To claim the championship this weekend, Stoner has to finish ahead of Rossi in Sunday's race. With Rossi nearly 0.8 seconds faster than Stoner in qualifying trim, Stoner will have his work cut out for him tomorrow.

Expected cooler --and possibly rainy -- weather for tomorrow could shuffle things up, though, and Stoner's Bridgestone-shod Ducati will surely have an opportunity to show its mettle in the race.

"If we can improve a bit in the morning, starting from the third row shouldn't be a big problem," said Stoner. "Normally we get goods start and with a few passes we can get to the front."

It should be a day of some titanic battles: Pedrosa vs Rossi and Hayden for the win, Stoner vs Rossi for the championship, Michelin vs Bridgestone for the tire hegemony. Much will depend on the weather, though, and that we won't know until the lights go out for the start of the Japanese Grand Prix.

"I am really looking forward to the race," said Rossi. "It's going to be hard in this heat but we will do our best and see what happens."

Everyone else will be looking forward to it as well -- with as much anticipation as Il Dottore himself.

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Nicky Hayden , Carlos Checa , Valentino Rossi , Randy de Puniet , Anthony West , Toni Elias , Casey Stoner , Dani Pedrosa