By Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
- Lorenzo picks up the pieces in Portugal
- Final 5 minute battle for the top spots
- Simoncelli nearly had his first MotoGP pole
Pole position for Lorenzo in action packed qualifying session in Estoril
Reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo grabbed pole position today during qualifying for round three of this year’s championship at Estoril, Portugal. The spectators saw a frantic final five minutes battle in the hour-long session on a drying track where yesterday’s fastest man and today’s pace setter Marco Simoncelli crashed out while on target for pole.
This track is strange to ride on, quite old with lots of holes, so you have to ride with care.
“Today has been complicated," Lorenzo said. "I got pole by just by a tenth in the end, managing five good laps with the softer tyre."
The Spaniard's thoughts already are on Sunday's race: "The most important thing is the race though, not that I have 43 pole position starts. This track is strange to ride on, quite old with lots of holes, so you have to ride with care. I need a good start tomorrow, to be focused, intelligent and to have good luck. The bike is improving, it’s much better in the fast corners, but we could be faster on the straight.”
Lorenzo, wearing his astronaut X-Lite helmet, put in a number of stellar laps on his factory Yamaha YZR-M1 to keep in touch with Simoncelli for his San Carlo Honda Gresini team and while ‘Super Sic’ looked unstoppable, a fast low-side near the end of the session ruined the Italian’s chances of claiming his very first MotoGP pole position. Despite the fall Simoncelli’s fastest time of 1m 37.294 was enough to keep him in second place on the grid.
Despite being somewhat cautious in the early stages, Lorenzo’s fastest time of 1m 37.161 saw him claim pole after Simoncelli’s abrupt exit. The battle for third position was palyed out by Repsol Honda teammates Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa and the second factory Yamaha of Ben Spies. While each of the three sat in third at a number of occasions during the session it was Pedrosa who managed to seal the final spot on the front row for tomorrow’s race.
"I'm very satisfied with this front row today. It was a very close session as it always is in this circuit and our main target this afternoon was to be on the front row, so I'm happy about this. For tomorrow, we will try to set up our bike a bit better for the race distance," Pedrosa commented.
Pedrosa’s recent surgery on his shoulder to remove a bolt that was thought to have been causing numbness in the Spaniards shoulder seems to have worked and this was evident during the session where he put in a number of medium runs on his RC212V and his best time of 1m 37.324 being enough to finish 3rd ahead of teammate Stoner who heads the second row despite being in pole position briefly. "I know that physically it will be tough for me because after the recent surgery, my shoulder has improved a little, but it is still very stiff and the muscles hurt."
Stoner was in full attack mode in Estoril today in his quest for pole position and was fast in all sectors but just couldn’t get out of the final corner onto the straight as good as teammate Pedrosa, Lorenzo or Simoncelli. The 2007 champion looked frustrated after the session but nevertheless he sits at the front of row 2 after setting a best time of 1m 37.384.
"Every time I went out the balance didn't feel correct, so we tried to go in another direction," said Stoner. "Unfortunately I wasn't able to use the qualifying tyre like I wanted to. When I went out there with the only new tyre that we had for the session, I made a few mistakes in the early laps, so didn't really use the best of the tyre. I think the race potential is there now and hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow.”
Spies will be pleased with 5th after being out of the top ten early on with no apparent reason for the slower than usual times being set by the Texan. However, he came alive shortly afterwards setting the fastest time and in the final 20 minutes he was dicing for 2nd position with teammate Lorenzo. Spies’ time of 1m 37.866 saw him stay ahead of third Repsol Honda man Andrea Dovizioso who finished 6th after setting a 1m 38.073.
“It was a good session for us; we definitely made the bike better after we’ve been struggling a bit this weekend," said Spies. "I knew we were capable of it if we got the bike working with the right set up. We’re not 100%, but I’m happy to be in the middle of the second row. Hopefully we can get a good start and put together a good race. I’m definitely feeling a lot better after qualifying than I did yesterday.”
The third row is headed up by Mosnter Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards who spent the majority of the session where he finished in 7th with a best time of 1m 38.080. The Texan’s teammate Cal Crutchlow managed to secure 8th after a slow progression to a time of 1m 38.189 and the British rookie’s confidence will be boosted to no end after registering a number of very fast sector times.
Ninth and final place on the third row went to Ducati Marlboro’s Valetntino Rossi after a troubling qualifying session for the seven-time MotoGP Champion. His best time of 1m 38.271 was set in the final 20 minutes after spending most of the time beforehand out of the top ten. Rossi also had a scare while being on what appeared to be an outlap he looked over his shoulder and his GP11 snapped violently and nearly highsided the Italian.
The last spot in the top ten was grabbed by Mapfre Aspar rider Hector Barbera with a best time of 1m 38.363. ‘Barberix’ heads up the fourth row ahead of Simoncelli’s teammate Hiroshi Aoyama with the Japanese rider setting a best time of 1m 38.497 to finish above Karel Abraham (1m 38.786) on his Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati.
Sitting in a lowly 13th position is Ducati Marlboro rider Nicky Hayden who couldn’t improve on his time of 1m 38.922. The 2006 Champion had a disastrous qualifying and while teammate Rossi managed to find something in the final stages, Hayden only just finished ahead of Pramac Racing’s Loris Capirossi (1m 38.934) on his Ducati GP11.
Finishing in 15th was the returning Alvaro Bautista on his Rizla Suzuki GSV-R who put in a trojan effort to return to the MotoGP paddock after breaking his left femur during a practice session at the first round of this year’s championship in Qatar. Bautista’s time of 1m 39.172 saw him finish ahead of Pramac Racing’s Randy de Puniet (1m 39.378) and of Toni Elias (1m 39.894) whose nightmare on his LCR Honda continues with no end to his riding troubles in sight.