STORMY ATLANTIC WEATHER KNOCKS OUT ESTORIL QUALIFYING Relentless heavy rainfall at Estoril this afternoon forced the cancellation of all three qualifying sessions for tomorrow's Portuguese Grand Prix. Grid positions have thus been decided from...
STORMY ATLANTIC WEATHER KNOCKS OUT ESTORIL QUALIFYING
Relentless heavy rainfall at Estoril this afternoon forced the cancellation of all three qualifying sessions for tomorrow's Portuguese Grand Prix. Grid positions have thus been decided from the three practice sessions from yesterday and this morning, all of which were run on a wet track.
Conditions have been pretty miserable since practice got underway yesterday morning, with strong winds and squalls blowing in from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The track was awash when the first MotoGP practice session got underway at 10am yesterday, so much so that only two MotoGP riders went out, completing a total of just seven laps between them. Conditions improved during yesterday afternoon's session, but the rain got worse again this morning and by lunch time the storms lashing Estoril grew in their intensity until race direction decided it was too dangerous for riders to venture out for qualifying. Yesterday there were 37 crashes across all three classes -- MotoGP, Moto2 and 125 -- and there were a further 45 tumbles this morning as riders fought vainly to find meaningful grip on the treacherous tarmac. The only rider to suffer injury was Moto2 rider Axel Pons (Tenerife 40 Pons, Pons Kalex), who fractured his right collarbone.
The last occasions on which grid positions were decided from free practice was at Motegi last year and at Sepang in 2006 when torrential rain forced the cancellation of qualifying.
Dovizioso had been confident of improving his position in qualifying after making useful forward steps this morning, especially with his RCV's electronics set-up, which allowed him to run a fast, consistent pace. Pedrosa's goal this weekend is to score as good a finish as possible to protect his second place in the championship. The Spaniard, who broke his left collarbone at last month's Japanese GP and made an abortive attempt to race at the Australian GP two weeks ago, has mixed feelings about the rainy conditions. The upside is that riding in lower-grip conditions is physically less demanding than riding in the dry; the downside is that it is much easier to crash on a slippery wet track.
Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) has had a difficult 2010, struggling to get comfortable with his RCV in dry conditions, so he revelled in the rain, claiming his first second-row start of the season. The Italian's previous best grid slot this year was eighth at Silverstone in June. Melandri rode his fastest lap in yesterday afternoon's session, two tenths faster than Dovizioso's best Saturday morning time. Team-mate Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) rounded out the top ten, setting his best time this morning.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) was eighth to complete an all-Honda third row, just three hundredths behind Dovizioso. Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V) qualified 16th with his best lap in the closing moments of this morning's outing.
Gabor Talmacsi (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up) claimed his first Moto2 pole position with his best lap time from Friday afternoon's session. The Moto2 FP2 outing was the least wet session of all, just about dry enough for a handful of riders to risk using slick tyres. Talmacsi was one those few and the gamble paid off for the former 125 World Champion, who is currently without a contract for 2011.
The 29-year-old Hungarian will share the front row of the grid with Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team, Suter), recently crowned Moto2 World Champion Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) and Moto2 first-timer Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP, Suter)
Twice World Supersport champion Sofuoglu is looking forward to his debut Moto2 race tomorrow, having made it onto the front row of the grid in his very first attempt at the Honda-powered series. The 26-year-old Turkish rider, who recently made sure of his second Supersport crown, is riding for the French Technomag-CIP team which so tragically lost Shoya Tomizawa at last month's San Marino Grand Prix. Sofuoglu has plenty of experience with 600s, having won the 2007 and 2010 Supersport titles for the Ten Kate team, riding a CBR600RR. He tested with his new team at Albacete, Spain, on Monday.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP) was disappointed to qualify 13th fastest in his first visit to Phillip Island on a MotoGP bike. Aoyama found the conditions unsettling which affected his confidence on the high speed circuit. He was hopeful of finding a solution in the morning and also hopeful the weather would improve.
German teenager Marcel Schrotter (Interwetten Honda 125 Team) achieved by far his best qualifying performance thanks to his speed in this morning's third practice session which put him sixth fastest for a second-row start. Pole position went to Briton Bradley Smith (Aprilia).
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V): 7th, 1m 50.007s
"I'm sorry we couldn't have the qualifying session because our target was to get a front-row starting position and, since I was third in the wet this morning that looked achievable for us. This morning we improved a lot in terms of our set-up and electronics, and I was able to maintain a fast and consistent pace thanks to some important changes on the machine. It was really impossible to have qualifying though -- there was no way we could ride in those conditions. Tomorrow the weather forecast seems to be for a wet warm-up and a dry race -- and if this happens it really means the race will be a lottery because no one has had any practice time in the dry. Also for me this is a track where it takes some time to find a good rhythm, so really I hope for a dry warm-up session and a dry race."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V): 12th, 1m 50.824s
"We were improving step-by-step this morning in terms of my lap times and my position and I think we could have continued that this afternoon, so it's a pity the qualifying session was cancelled -- although of course there was no alternative. At the beginning of the morning session I didn't feel particularly confident on the machine but I decided with the team to stay out and keep lapping to get more time on the bike. It was a good decision because we made some good progress in the second half of the session. We wanted to move further forward on the grid this afternoon and I think this should have been possible if the session had gone ahead. Tomorrow we don't know what the weather will do, but what I do know is that from 12th I have to make a great start -- wet or dry. I'm not thinking about what Casey and Valentino will do tomorrow -- all I can do is give my maximum and hope to keep any loss as small as possible."
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V): 8th, 1m 50.043s
"What can I say? It was not safe for us to ride in these conditions so this is the best solution. This morning we saved one set of tyres ahead the qualifying thinking that the conditions could be a bit better but at the end we could not take advantage of this. Anyway my yesterday's lap time gives me the chance to start from the third row. We could have done a lot better but we focused on race set-up, not on the lap time. We are pleased with our race pace in the wet but if the race is dry we will all be in the same difficult situation."
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V): 16th, 1m 53.317s
"Unfortunately qualifying was cancelled. We wanted to try some adjustments on the bike and try to improve the lap times. But I think that the decision made was right, as it is quite risky to go out in these conditions. Tomorrow we will have to see what we can improve in warm-up. Normally I prefer a dry race, but this time I think it would be better if we have a wet race."
Gabor Talmacsi (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up): pole position, 1m 50.916s
"I changed to slick during FP2 even though the track wasn't very dry. That made it a bit risky but the grip level was okay so I was able to push quite hard and that got allowed me to be fastest. At the last few races I have had difficulties in practice which made me start far back on the grid which makes the race very difficult. Tomorrow, rain or dry is okay for me, because our rain set-up is good. But I'm on pole, so I'm happy and I'll try to be fast whatever the conditions."
Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP, Suter): 4th, 1m 51.949s
"I'm quite happy, though it would have been good to have a dry session, especially because I've only had one testing in the dry on this bike [at Albacete, last Monday) and because I've never ridden here before either. The Dunlop rain front tyre seems really good and we've been working to find a little more rear grip by adjusting the suspension set-up."
Marcel Schrotter (Interwetten Honda 125 Team): 6th, 2m 04.134s
"I was lucky that the qualifying was cancelled, but I also would have liked to ride it. This morning it went well for me in the wet and I finished the session in sixth position. I will start the race from sixth and I am happy about that. I just hope the race will go as well as this as well."