Valentino Rossi secured today his fifth pole position of the season on his way to retaining the title in the season finale of the FIM Road Racing World Championship (MotoGP) to be held this weekend in Valencia, Spain.
His rival in the championship fight, Nicky Hayden, had to settle for fifth place on the grid at 0.376 drift of Rossi, who set 1.31:002 to take his 35th pole in MotoGP competition.
"We knew we had great potential with the qualifying tyre because we tried it this morning in the free practice and then this afternoon I did three very good laps, each one better and better and then the final lap was very fast. To do a 1'31.0 was really incredible. This pole position is crucial for me because it is an important part of my race tactics to start from the front," Rossi said.
The Camel Yamaha rider arrived in Valencia eight points ahead of Hayden in the standings after the American suffered the mistake of his teammate Dani Pedrosa in Portugal's race when the Spaniard took him off the track.
The Italian knows that the big and final challenge takes place tomorrow and he doesn't want to leave nothing to chance: "Now we need to make one or two small changes for tomorrow and then we'll just wait and see. I hope the weather will be like this - for the riders and for the fans because it looks like there will be a great crowd! Now we have the most important thirty laps of the season left to complete our target," commented the seven-time world champion looking for his eighth.
Alongside Rossi in the front row will be the two factory Ducati bikes: the recently crowned World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. Bayliss is replacing the injured Sete Gibernau this weekend.
Bayliss, who wrapped up his second WSBK title for Ducati earlier this month, was second quickest, just two tenths off pole, even though this is his first MotoGP outing of the year. The Australian's result today equaled his best-ever MotoGP grid position, achieved at Jerez in 2003.
"It's been a great weekend so far, now I'd just like to finish it off with a good result. This is a great opportunity to finish the story I started with the Desmosedici in 2003 because this is the last 990cc MotoGP race, so I really appreciate getting the ride. I'm back with my old guys from this team in 2004 and I've come with a few guys from Superbikes, Ernesto Marinelli, Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi, so I've felt at home all weekend," mentioned Bayliss.
Capirossi was less than a tenth down in third place and is feeling confident for tomorrow's race in which he aims to secure third overall in the World Championship.
"Troy and I are like wine -- the older we get the faster we get! I am very happy with the work we've done today, especially this morning when I did a semi-race simulation of 20 laps, maintaining a very good pace throughout," the Italian said.
Owning the second row will be Japanese rider Shinya Nakano, with Hayden and Pedrosa, on their Repsol Hondas.
Hayden will move from an interesting fifth spot tomorrow and, knowing he finished just 0.3s adrift Rossi, it is expected that they will have a close fight during the race, although the Kentucky rider would wanted more.
"We're starting on the second row and that means I need a lightning start tomorrow. We're definitely going all in for the win and it'll be interesting because there are some guys going really fast out there. I need fast guys - but I don't need them to be faster than me! I didn't get on the front row where I needed to be which makes it a bit harder for me - and I'm not thrilled about that," commented the American.
Hayden will go for everything or nothing on Sunday in his chase for the title. "Regardless I just need to focus on the race and finish the year strong - whatever happens happens."
Tomorrow's decisive 30-lap race begins at 14.00 CET following a 20-minute warm-up session in the morning.