By Gordon Hatch - MotoGP correspondent
- Stoner flies to season's first pole
- Repsol Honda 1-2 with Pedrosa
- 2010 champion Lorenzo on front row
Stoner takes first pole of 2011 MotoGP season in devastating fashion
Casey Stoner heads the grid going into the first race of the 2011 MotoGP season tomorrow at the Losail International Circuit in Doha, Qatar. The Repsol Honda rider dominated the hour-long qualifying session on his RC212V as he did in all free practice sessions and also in the two-day final test at the same track last week.
"We can't ask for a much better weekend, everything has gone well and the team have made all the right steps and gradually improved the bike as the weekend progressed," smiled Stoner. "Tonight I was able to achieve good, consistent lap times again on the hard tyre and this is important for the race tomorrow."
"The weekend has been very good for us so far, I've been running at the top in every session and I'm very happy to be on the front row in Losail for the first time; this is a big improvement for me. Nevertheless, we have to focus on the race," Pedrosa said.
The third and final slot on the front row was secured by reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo who showed that despite his factory Yamaha YZR M1 being somewhat down on overall power compared to the Hondas, he was well able to lap in the mid to high 1m 55's and setting best time of 1'54.947 that Lorenzo set while thinking about points rather than the overall win tomorrow.
"There were some really impressive lap times out there tonight in the session," said the Mallorcan. "We are still quite far behind the front but our goal is to finish on the podium and that is in my mind for tomorrow. My race pace is pretty good; I think I can keep running 1'55.7s or maybe 1'55.8s. We will finalise our set up in warm up and try to achieve that tomorrow."
We can't ask for a much better weekend.
The two Yamahas were split at the end of the session by the ever-improving Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) after he set a time of 1m 54.988s near the end of the hour putting the Italian just ahead of Ben Spies who was also very consistent throughout qualifying and the free practice sessions. Spies' time of 1m 55.095s was the first time outside of the 1m 54s bracket but with most riders in the 1m 55s in race simulation Spies sits in a good position for tomorrow's season opener.
The big surprise of the session came when Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar) was the first Ducati rider on the time sheets and while the paddock whispers are certainly surrounding factory Marlboro Ducati and its riders Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi's low placings, Barbera sits 6th on the grid with his best time of 1m 55.223s.
Following Barbera into 7th was the third Repsol Honda of Andrea Dovizioso in a session to forget despite 'Dovi' forming a Honda one-two-three lockout earlier in the race weekend. The Italian rider's time of 1m 55.229s sees him ahead of eight-place man and MotoGP rookie Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who took the spot ahead of seven-times MotoGP Champion Valentino Rossi despite nursing an injured shoulder and a heavily-damaged little finger.
Rossi's weekend seems at a standstill with the Italian not able to push past a certain level because of his shoulder that is still not 100% healed after being operated on at Christmas. The first of the factory Ducati's, Rossi posted a time of 1m 55.637s to take ninth spot ahead of his former teammate Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who took the last spot in the top ten with a 1m 55.647s.
Randy de Puniet worked hard on his Pramac Racing Ducati to take 11h spot with a 1m 55.656s, the Frenchman not able to get the satellite Ducati to work beyond a certain limit. De Puniet was followed closely by Hiroshi Aoyama for the San Carlo Honda Gresini squad. Aoyama posted a 1m 55.724s that was good enough for 12th.
The rest of the MotoGP, 125cc and Moto2 paddock's have joined together in a show of solidarity and support of Aoyama and the whole of Japan after the recent natural disasters that have hit the country. The satellite Honda rider was still able to keep ahead of second of the factory Ducati's as Nicky Hayden struggled with his GP11 as he has done on previous occasions at Qatar on the Ducati. Hayden, who won the championship in 2006, managed a 1m 55.881s to take 13th position for tomorrow's race.
Pramac Racing's Loris Capirossi is also struggling with the Ducati and he also is unable to get the Ducati to work beyond the level where he stopped tonight setting a best time of Team 1m 56.323s and the first rider to be outside the 1m 55s mark. The veteran Italian was tracked by the incoming rookie Czech Republic rider Karel Abraham who has looked exciting at times on his Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati.
The last man home was reigning Moto2 Champion Toni Elias (1m 57.992s) who is having a nightmare on this LCR Honda. Elias has struggled to get to grips with the RC212V with one of his main problems being that he can't seem to get enough heat into his bike's rear Bridgestone.
Suzuki fans will be happy to hear that Alvaro Bautista who crashed heavily twice this week and subsequently suffered a broken left femur yesterday, is comfortable in hospital after having corrective surgery on his leg. Bautista plans to return to Spain early next week to begin his recuperation with a view to being back in MotoGP as soon as possible.
Despite the team's best efforts to fly in test rider Nobuatsu Aoki from disaster-stricken Japan, ex-GP rider John Hopkins or other riders in the Moto2 paddock to substitute, they have been unsuccessful. There is a silver lining for the Suzuki fans however that comes in the form of John Hopkins who will come straight from preparing for his upcoming season in British Superbikes where he also is riding a Suzuki to race for the MotoGP team in the next round at Jerez, Spain.