Chris Vermeulen, on his Rizla Suzuki, proved once again he feels comfortable under the rain by taking the pole position for the A-Style TT Assen, ninth round of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix (MotoGP) held under wet conditions.
The Australian took his first MotoGP pole in the wet at Istanbul Park circuit last year and his maiden victory in the wet at Le Mans this season. So it`s a fact, the rain works great for him.
"I'm very happy to be in pole position and again it's another good result for Rizla Suzuki! It was a strong performance by both of us and a shame that John missed out on the front row right at the end. This was our first wet session of the weekend and that made it pretty difficult to get the bike set-up right, and also qualify, in just the hour", the pole sitter commented.
Fresh from his third place in the wet at Donington Park last week, Vermeulen always looked in control and comfortable on his GSV-R over the treacherous 4.5km Dutch circuit.
"The team did a great job and the bike felt really good. It was easily capable of doing those lap-times in those conditions - if not a bit quicker! In the dry this morning we made a lot of improvements and I feel confident now in any weather! We now have to wait and see what the weather does; it needs to be wet or dry because if it is in between here it will be awful!", the Aussie added.
Vermeulen set 1.48:555 to beat his countryman and standings leader, Casey Stoner, by just 0.017 after the one hour session.
Just five days after his convincing British GP victory at a damp British Grand Prix, Stoner proved once again that he is on the pace, not matter rain or shine.
"I made a few mistakes early on and I couldn't really see the edge of the track because my screen was fogged up. That slide didn't feel as bad as it looked - it went, I backed it off and felt it hooking up again, just waited for it to come back. I had a couple of those moments but other than that the grip was fine, more predictable than Donington. After that we were just slowly building and getting faster, I think if I'd stayed out I could've gone a second and a half or two seconds quicker if the rain hadn't come down again", Stoner stated.
The 21 years-old rider led much of the wet qualifying session but had to settle with second spot in his fourth front-row performance of the year and continued an impressive Assen display - first or second in all four sessions after being fastest yesterday and second today`s morning in dry conditions.
"This morning we came up with a really good dry setting, so we're also looking strong if it's dry. I think we're starting to get more and more confident with the bike. We found a big settings change at Catalunya and since then we've been very fast, wet or dry. We had to change something because Mugello was difficult, and we were really struggling in some areas at a couple of other tracks, like Shanghai", Stoner said.
Right after the Ducati Marlboro`s ace fast time came Randy de Puniet in the Kawasaki Ninja, but over a second adrift to Vermeulen with a lap time of 1.49:579 after 28 attempts, becoming the rider with more laps, along with John Hopkins, who was fifth today.
"I'm very happy and feeling a bit lucky! I found a tyre I really liked but then the weather changed for the worse and it was impossible to improve. However, I hung on, waiting for the conditions to get better and they did, just at the right moment. I thought I would be starting from the fifth row, and from there it's hard to do well in the race, so I'm really pleased", de Puniet mentioned.
The 26 year-old rider had a good start to the session, which saw him easily maintaining the pace of the frontrunners but then with the rain falling even harder, his chances got complicated looking in a 13th spot. However, perseverance with his Bridgestone tyre choice paid off as drier conditions prevailed and, on his very last run, he put in his best time of the day.
"It's very important to get this third position on the grid. Today's conditions were not the best but I managed a good lap time and the bike and engine worked very well, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow", the French stated.
The Bridgestone tyres showed their superiority under the rain by taking the top five places with Marco Melandri`s Gresini Honda ahead of Hopkins`s Rizla Suzuki.
The top Michelin qualifier was Colin Edwards in the Fiat Yamaha in the sixth spot, followed by Anthony West on the second Kawasaki. West -- in his second Grand Prix in the premier class -- won on this circuit in wet conditions in the 250cc bike and he too feels good with the rain.
Valentino Rossi took only 11th on the grid and despite the poor grip with the Michelins, the Italian got beaten again by his teammate Edwards in the qualifying.
World Champion, Nicky Hayden, was unable to stay on his steady performance after yesterday and ended in a poor 13th, two seconds away from the pole position.
Tomorrow's 26-lap race starts at 14.00hrs local time (12.00hrs GMT), with the weather as a question mark, waiting to see if the rain leaves the way to the sun.