By Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
Repsol Honda rider Stoner on pole position ahead of Simoncelli
Casey Stoner continued his dominance during today’s qualifying session for the fourth round of this year’s MotoGP championship at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France. The Australian grabbed pole just ahead of Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) who continued his sensational speed to finish ahead of Stoner’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso.
Stoner’s pole position lap of 1m 33.153s was just good enough to hold off Simoncelli after he set a 1m 33.212s to that of Dovizioso, who found a richer vein of form to set his best time of 1m 33.621s at the Bugatti Circuit. The Italian’s confidence will be boosted after finishing ahead of his other teammate, Dani Pedrosa who leads the second row after posting a time of 1m 33.683s.
Speaking after his third pole of the season and the 25th pole position of his MotoGP career. Amazingly Stoner has never won at Le Mans but remains confident for the race tomorrow saying, “We're very happy with this pole, we focused a lot on our race set up this afternoon, going from one bike to the another, making small adjustments to improve the bike a little.
This is our third pole of the season but we've only converted one of them into a victory, so we hope to have a little more luck this weekend.
“The conditions aren't perfect at the moment, it's quite windy so hard to see if you've improved or not, but my Honda was working really well and I never found myself pushing to the limit too much, which is always good,” he said.
Stoner also added that he is aiming to convert his pole into a race win tomorrow after a number of incidents in the previous two rounds prevented him from capitalising on his front row starts this year. He said, “This is our third pole of the season but we've only converted one of them into a victory, so we hope to have a little more luck this weekend here in Le Mans and fight for the win.”
With just less than .100s from his first ever MotoGP pole position, Simoncelli was delighted with his performance but also aired caution ahead of tomorrow’s race. “I got really close to my first ever pole today - 0.059 seconds is hardly anything! Strangely it is the same gap that I missed out on the podium by last year at Estoril,” said the Italian while continuing, “In any case I am happy and we are not in bad shape for the race. We have improved from session to session so I am confident. We have improved under braking today but I still don't feel 100% secure.”
Simoncelli added, “My objective tomorrow is to get to the end of the race and bring some important points home. I won't be pushing over the limit to get a result at all costs, I want to manage the race well.”
Dovizioso was pleasantly surprised with his front row position after he revealed that he never expected to grab third largely due to the sheer pace of his two teammates saying, “I’m very happy to start from the first row, even though this was our target, I didn’t expect it. I was behind Simoncelli for two laps and this helped me because I followed his lines.
“This afternoon we did some small changes to the set up and my feeling with the front improved. We feel very confident for the race, I think we can fight for the podium. The race will be tough, Stoner is very fast and he may try to run away. I have a good pace and I think I will fight with Simoncelli and Pedrosa. I want to thank my team for all their hard work and hope we can get a good result tomorrow,” he added.
With fierce competition coming from the top four Honda riders, 2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo could only manage fifth place for his Yamaha MotoGP team. Lorenzo set a time of 1m 33.706s, over half a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who was the final rider in the 1m 33s time bracket with his best lap of 1m 33.804s.
Crutchlow’s effort puts him in the best position of his debut MotoGP season and leads his teammate Colin Edwards, who put in a solid performance to claim seventh on the grid with his best lap of 1m 34.063s. The two satellite Yamaha riders both managed to finish ahead of the second of the factory Yamaha riders, Ben Spies (1m 34.206s) who starts tomorrow’s race in eight place – his worse grid position of the year.
Spies finished ahead of Ducati Marlboro teammates Valentino Rossi (1m 34.206s) and Nicky Hayden (1m 34.277s) as they both continued to try out different settings on the Ducati GP11 for tomorrow’s race. Randy de Puniet (Pramac Racing) managed to set a best time of 1m 34.351s to start in 11th place ahead of the lone Rizla Suzuki rider Alvaro Bautista 1m 34.513s.
Simoncelli’s teammate Hiroshi Aoyama finished in 13th position with his best time and was followed into 14th by Hector Barbera (Mapfre Aspar Team). Barbera finished ahead of Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing) in 15th and ‘Capirex’ starts tomorrow’s race ahead of Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing) and Toni Elias (LCR Honda) in 17th and last place.