Second Row Sweep For Honda at Laguna Seca

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) and teammate Andrea Dovizioso will be joined by Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) on the second row for Sunday's Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, the eighth round of the MotoGP World Championship. Pedrosa and Dovizioso had been atop the time charts for the first quarter of the session, then spent the rest of it fighting to get back on top. Pedrosa ended the hour .203s off the front row with Dovizioso only .022 farther back and Elias sixth at a gap of .011s.

The qualifying session, held on a sun-drenched afternoon at Laguna Seca, the tortuous track located not far from the Pacific Ocean, was the most dramatic of the year, with two of the top three qualifiers ending the hour with frightening high-sides. Pole position went to Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) before he suffered a dislocated right shoulder and right foot injury in a violent high-side late in the session. He plans to test his race fitness in the Sunday morning warm-up. Teammate Valentino Rossi was second fastest, while Casey Stoner (Ducati) finished third, though he also ended qualifying with a high-side. Stoner was able to walk back into his garage under his own power uninjured.

The end of the session was equally dramatic for the Honda runners, with their positions changing hands repeatedly. With less than a minute to go, Elias jumped up to fourth, but only briefly. Six seconds after the checkered flag, Dovizioso stole fourth with his best lap of the day. Then came Pedrosa, who would leapfrog both with the final of his 34 laps of the 3.61k, 11-turn road course.

Because injuries prevented him from racing at Laguna Seca last year, Pedrosa was starting over. Two years ago he was on the first generation Honda RC212V and on Michelin tyres. Today he was on the latest spec RC212V, which he only began racing last week in Assen, and control Bridgestones. The new chassis provides better front end stability and feedback, which are essential on a track that features a 91 meter elevation change and a number of hard braking downhill corners.

The Spaniard was also in much better physical condition than he'd been in Assen only a week ago. He said the physical nature of the track was a challenge, but not one that would prevent him from challenging for victory.

Dovizioso took advantage of the afternoon heat to use the harder rear Bridgestone, a strategy that allowed him to vastly improve his lap times, while setting the RC212V for the race. Dovizioso was on pace to improve his time, but had to slow in the turn 10 area where fast qualifier Jorge Lorenzo had crashed.

Elias said the session was probably the toughest of the season, the undulating nature of the track making it a physical challenge, while the heat allowed for more rear tire grip. With the race expected to be run in similar conditions, it was essential Elias find the right settings, which he did.

Alex De Angelis, the teammate of Elias, will start the race from the row four pole. De Angelis was disappointed with his grid position, but happy with his race pace, which was done on race tyres. The team worked hard to sort out the front end issues he had in Assen and he expects to find more pace for Sunday's race.

Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) will also start from the fourth row after his hopes of starting higher were frustrated during qualifying. The 28-year-old Frenchman found a good race set-up, but wasn't able to gain any advantage from the softer of the two rear tyre choices. The session ended with De Puniet in the thick of traffic on a machine that he knows he has to improve for the morning warm-up.

In only his third grand prix, and his first visit to Laguna Seca, Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) will start from the final row. The Hungarian found the complexity and physicality of the track daunting, though he was content to have progressed throughout the two days of practice.

Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 4th - 1m 22.113s, said:

"I'We started this afternoon's session really well and were able to lap consistently quickly straight away. Towards the end it became a little bit more difficult to improve the lap times because they tyres weren't quite getting up to temperature and it was easy to make a mistake - we saw a few crashes out there later in the session. Fourth on the grid is not bad - I would have liked to be on the front row of course but fourth is ok. For tomorrow I'd like to improve our race pace by about three tenths per lap and that's what we'll work on in the warm-up. We did a lot of laps today on the tyres we're planning to race on and this was one of our targets this weekend so I'm satisfied with that. It's a short lap here and there isn't any chance to rest which is going to make it a tough race tomorrow. You have to stay very focused and concentrated because it's easy to make a mistake. In the sessions today I was mostly riding on a clear track, so I'm confident that if I can get away with the front group then this will help my rhythm and pace even more."

Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 5th - 1m 22.235s, said:

"As I expected this afternoon, with the higher temperatures and using the hard Bridgestones, I could improve my lap times by a decent amount over this morning. That's good because these are the tyres we'll use for the race and we're in pretty good shape. I think I have a good race pace and starting from the second row is not bad. Towards the end of qualifying I think I could have gone even quicker with the last soft tyre but I was on track when Lorenzo crashed so I had to slow down because there were yellow flags. Anyway, I'm happy with qualifying and tomorrow we'll aim to make a good start and stay with the leaders. In the heat of the race I think I should be able to grit my teeth and shave a few more tenths from my lap time too. This track is really special and the atmosphere here is unique, so and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's race. I hope we can be competitive and give the team a strong result before we head back to Europe."

Toni Elias, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 6th - 1m 22.146s, said:

"To be perfectly honest, that was probably the toughest session of the weekend so far, but in the end we met our objective, which was to secure a place on one of the front two rows for the race tomorrow. Sixth place gives us a good chance, my pace is decent so I hope to get a good enough start to be able to follow Rossi and Stoner because I think we have the potential to stay with them. They're really quick but we have to give it a shot. I truly think we have the chance to give them a race tomorrow and we can't afford to let opportunities like this pass us by. We have worked hard so far this season without much reward so hopefully this weekend will be the turning point for us. We've made good progress but now we have to back it up."

Alex De Angelis, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 12th - 1m 23.004s, said:

"Our grid position is not great, but our race pace looks good and I'm pleased with the progress, we've made so far this weekend. We've improved the performance of the bike under braking and solved the front-end stability issues that we struggled so much with at Assen. We tried the harder compound front tyre today but it gave us a bit of a chattering problem. We believe and we hope that it is only the tyre that caused the problem and by switching back to the softer compound we'll resolve it. It is only a small thing and it didn't affect our race pace too much, but I'm confident we can still find a little more speed for tomorrow."

Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda: 14th - 1m 23.147s, said:

"Honestly, we have struggled since yesterday to find a good set-up which makes me comfortable on the bike. After the first run this afternoon I thought we found the right direction as I could do decent lap times on race trim. But as soon as I came in on soft tyres, we realized that we could not improve our lap time. I made a few mistakes and found some traffic in the last minutes, but my machine is not good enough at the moment. I am sure the guys will work hard to fix our issues for tomorrow's warm up session."

Gabor Talmacsi - Scot Honda: 17th - 1m 24.528s, said:

"It is a challenging track and you can never relax. I'm satisfied with the free practices, as I was able to improve lap after lap, and session after session. I had a few problems in qualifying with the tyres. I saw it was difficult for everybody. We have some ideas for tomorrow and we will test them during the warm-up to improve our performance in the race."

-credit: honda