Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Torrential rain and technical problems fail to hinder Repsol Honda rider
Casey Stoner surged to pole position in near sub-aqua conditions during qualifying for the eni Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland at the historic Sachsenring circuit and the Australian’s performance was even more impressive with his best lap coming on his back-up RC213V after encountering a technical problem with his number one bike early on in the hour-long session. Stoner topped the session ahead of Yamaha Factory racing’s Ben Spies with Dani Pedrosa rounding out the front row.
The day began with this morning’s third free practice session that was also in wet conditions but drying near the end and CRT riders Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini) and Mattia Pasini (Speedmaster) topped the session with a gamble to use slick tires on the drying track. The conditions this afternoon were much worse however torrential downpours played havoc with the riders for the majority of qualifying.
Stoner made the running early on with his teammate Dani Pedrosa with a raft of riders, including home hero Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda), close behind. With the rain falling relentlessly the riders rode with caution around the twisty German circuit which proved too difficult for some when Pirro crashed out at high speed early on and the Italian lucky to walk away. With just 15 minutes gone, Pramac Racing rider Hector Barbera also crashed at the same corner as Pirro just minutes before.
With just 25 minutes gone in the session Stoner was forced to pull off the track when his bike suddenly shut down for no apparent reason and the Australian made his way back to the pits with his crew readying his second machine. Bradl was next to make a bid for pole position and took the top spot away from Stoner with 30 minutes to go and this is where the German stayed for the next 20 minutes with the rain falling harder and harder.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow were both circulating not far off the Repsol Hondas as was Stoner’s main championship rival Jorge Lorenzo and his teammate Ben Spies who were both getting faster and faster. Danilo Petrucci was lucky to walk away from a high-speed crash just after the Came IodaRacing rider set the 10th fastest lap and to the top of the CRT times.
The Ducati Team riders were both quick to get to the top end of the timings early on but Valentino Rossi fell back in the middle of the session while Nicky Hayden was consistent throughout and jumped to second place with ten minutes. Rossi had also begun to improve on his times in the last quarter of the session and then Hayden jumped to pole a number of times moving inside the last ten minutes as did a large number of riders all pushing for the top spot with the rain stopped and visibility considerably improved.
Stoner stayed in the pits until the final ten minutes when he decided to go back out with conditions improving somewhat. The reigning MotoGP World Champion wasted no time in getting up to speed and within a few laps he had shot to pole but his initial time didn’t stand for long with Bradl taking it away and the battle for pole then turned into a seven-way fight within the final five minutes with Spies, Stoner, Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Hayden, Pedrosa and Bradl all swapping places at the top.
Stoner surged to the top spot with under three minutes left following the frantic changing of positions giving the Australian his fourth pole position of this year with the eventual fastest time of 1m 31.796s. Spies ended up in second place with the American’s time of 1m 31.989s just enough to start ahead of Pedrosa with his fastest lap of 1m 32.081s. Starting from the front of the second row will be Crutchlow with a best time of 1m 32.288s and he starts just in front of Lorenzo (1m 32.381s) and home hero Bradl in 6th (1m 32.510s).
Hayden secured himself a 7th place start tomorrow with his best lap of 1m 32.795s enough to lead Dovizioso (1m 33.205s) and Rossi in 9th with his best time of 1m 33.217s. Starting from 10th tomorrow will be the best CRT rider, Aleix Espargaro for the Power Electronics Aspar team 1m 33.900s while Alvaro set the 11the fastest time (1m 34.088s), but the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider will automatically start from the back of the grid tomorrow as a penalty arising from his turn one crash at Assen last week that also took Lorenzo out of the race.
Barbera ended the session with 12th position settling for his best time of 1m 34.542s following his crash while Colin Edwards made a marked improvement on his NGM Forward Racing CRT machine with the American setting the 13th fastest time of 1m 34.649s despite languishing in 21st position for the majority of the session. Randy De Puniet set the 14th fastest time of 1m 34.651s on the Power Electronics Aspar ahead of Pasini in 15th with a best lap time of 1m 34.938s.
Petrucci will start from 16th after setting a best lap of 1m 35.590s ahead of Pirro with a time of 1m 35.595s while Yonny Hernandez starts in 18th for the Avintia Blusens team with a best lap of 1m 35.962s ahead of his teammate Ivan Silva with his best time of 1m 36.183s. James Ellison (Paul Bird Motorsport) starts from 20th and his time of 1m 36.355s was enough to finish ahead of Franco Battaini who is filling in for Karel Abraham on and the Cardion AB Motoracing setting a best lap of 1m 36.438s.
Speaking afterwards, Stoner said it was a tricky throughout the hour. “It was actually a very difficult session,” he said while continuing, “We started off well and then we switched to our number one bike with a completely different set up and that felt a lot better. On the first lap, I matched my best time I did on my second bike, then unfortunately on the second lap the engine gave up. We're not too sure what happened, if it was something electrical or if some water got in there, but we'll find out later.
This put us on the back foot a little because as soon as we came back and got the tyres ready on the second bike, it started to rain hard again so we knew we wouldn't be able to get a better lap time in those conditions. We decided to wait for later in the session as we knew we wouldn't have much hope unless the conditions improved a little, and luckily they did. It ended up being a really good day for us and we'll see what we're capable of tomorrow,” Stoner added.
Spies was very happy to have secured second on the grid saying, “It’s been strange today, we’ve struggled in the rain a lot in the past, especially at this track in the last couple of years but I had a good feeling in the wet yesterday. I was honestly a bit lost in the last ten minutes of qualifying, my lap timer quit working so I didn’t know what times I was doing and what my splits were. I just rode off of what I thought was quick and saw P1 on my board a couple of times. In the end I just gave it some stick and hoped I would get on the front row! Great work by the guys to deliver a good bike for the conditions too.”
Securing another front row start, Pedrosa was pleased as he said, “I'm very happy with this qualifying session. It was difficult, especially at the beginning as it was raining very hard and we had so much water on the asphalt, it was difficult to stop the bike spinning and aquaplaning. It was crucial to be ready at the end when the rain stopped because everybody was improving their lap times and in one lap you could be first or sixth. I'm very happy because in the past in these kinds of sessions we didn't get a good result.
But this time, I was more confident every lap and we made it; I thought I got the pole in my last flying lap, but anyway to be at the front is key in Sachsenring. Yesterday we also had a good feeling in the dry, and it looks like we will have a dry race tomorrow, so it will be important to make the right choice on tyres and try the hard compound in the warm up to compare with the soft we tried on Friday,” Pedrosa added.