Stoner claims front row in Estoril qualifying
Ducati Corse's Casey Stoner will be the highest-placed Bridgestone-shod rider on the grid for tomorrow afternoon's 28-lap Portuguese Grand Prix after a close run qualifying session in Estoril this afternoon which saw Honda's Nicky Hayden snatch a last gasp pole position from the championship-leading Australian by just 0.040s.
Honda Gresini duo Marco Melandri and Toni Elias both qualified inside the top ten in seventh and ninth positions respectively. Suzuki's John Hopkins maintains his run of consecutive top ten grid slots with tenth place and he will be joined on the fourth row of the grid by team-mate Chris Vermeulen who took twelfth place.
Lap times have again been close with Vermeulen only one second but eleven places adrift of pole man Hayden. Race pace for Bridgestone-shod riders has given cause for optimism after the difficulties from the 2006 event. Casey Stoner was able to complete fourteen laps in this morning's free practice quicker than the best race lap from last year's GP (1m37.914s) with a best time of 1m37.173s, a staggering 0.8 second improvement over the 2006 standard.
Tyre Talk with Tohru Ubukata - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Race Tyre Development
What is Bridgestone's assessment of this afternoon's qualifying session?
"It has been a very close weekend so far and this afternoon's qualifying session perhaps indicated that the competitiveness of the different bike-rider-tyre packages is the most equal it has been all season. All three tyre manufacturers are represented in the top five on the grid and there are three different manufacturers on the front row. Casey has taken his eighth front row start of the year which will well place him for tomorrow's race, which we expect to be an extremely tough battle."
And how is the race pace?
"Our aim for this weekend was the show a significant improvement in our race pace and tyre durability at this track compared to previous seasons. The performance in practice does seem to suggest that we have closed the gap to our rivals, but there is still work to be done. A few riders have been able to lap in the key 1m37s bracket today and this is likely to be the pace required for the podium tomorrow afternoon. Some of our riders did medium runs this morning and were able to set consistent times, which are very encouraging for the race itself."
Riding Perspective - Casey Stoner - Ducati Corse - 2nd position on the grid
"We thought we had a chance for pole today and we were close to it. It seems that one of the most important factors will be tyre performance over the full race distance but we have worked well with Bridgestone again, putting race distance on different tyres this morning and this afternoon. We were still able to set good lap times with many laps on the tyre so this is very positive. We have a good set-up and we will make some refinements tomorrow morning."