Valencian GP: Honda qualifying report

Magical MotoGP rookie Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) scored his first premier-class front-row start at Valencia today to give himself the best possible chance of scoring a first MotoGP podium finish in tomorrow's season ...

Magical MotoGP rookie Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) scored his first premier-class front-row start at Valencia today to give himself the best possible chance of scoring a first MotoGP podium finish in tomorrow's season finale.

Former 250 World Champion Simoncelli ended the 45 minute qualifying session just one tenth behind second-fastest Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and four tenths down on pole-position man Casey Stoner (Ducati). Fourth fastest, less than a tenth behind Simoncelli, was former MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha). Simoncelli's previous best grid position in the MotoGP class was fourth at the recent Australian GP.

One week after the weather-lashed Portuguese GP, the paddock is enjoying a sunny weekend at Valencia, with all four sessions run on a dry track. Simoncelli has been fast throughout, continuing to climb the MotoGP learning curve in impressive style. Thanks to crucial input from HRC, which recently equipped Simoncelli with upgraded electronics, the 23-year-old came within a fraction of a second of scoring his first elite-class podium at Estoril last Sunday. Tomorrow he will want to go one better than that best-ever fourth-place result.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) delivered another heroic performance this afternoon, putting himself on the third row of the grid despite suffering pain and numbness from his left shoulder injury. The Spaniard -- who broke his left collarbone at last month's Japanese GP -- was an impressive third fastest in free practice and ended qualifying eight tenths off pole. Not surprisingly, Pedrosa's main concern for tomorrow's 30-lap race is physical endurance.

Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) claimed the last place on the third row, going ninth fastest on his RCV. The Italian has consistently improved his pace throughout the weekend but struggled to extract the maximum from his RCV on softer tyres. Dovizioso knows where he is losing time -- in the final two sectors of this short and sinuous track -- and he plans to work on those areas before the race.

Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) and Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) will start the final race of the year alongside each other at the head of the fourth row. Melandri once again struggled to get the best out of his RCV in qualifying. De Puniet had been hopeful of another great qualifying after completing free practice seventh quickest. He was once again competitive this afternoon until he fitted softer tyres, which didn't give him the feeling he needed to attack at maximum pace. The Frenchman ended the outing 11th.

Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V) ended free practice 14th fastest, putting him in confident mood for this afternoon's qualifying session. But the Japanese -- who secured the 250 World Championship here last year -- was unable to better his best time from this morning's session and thus slipped to 15th on the grid.

Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) snatched the final Moto2 pole position of the year in the last two minutes of qualifying. The recently crowned Moto2 World Champion came out on top of a typically frantic session that had earlier seen Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing, Suter), Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing Team, Suter) and Andrea Iannone (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up) lead the way. At the end of the 45 minutes Bradl was second, one tenth of a second down on Elias, with Iannone and Redding completing the front row. The fastest 20 riders were covered by just 0.999 seconds.

This was a welcome return to form for Elias who made sure of the title with a run of four consecutive victories from the German GP to the San Marino GP, but has since struggled to reproduce that winning speed. The Spaniard, who has yet to win a GP race at Valencia, last stood on the podium four races ago at Motegi. Elias is using a revised Moriwaki frame here, which he got dialled in for qualifying. This will be his last race in Moto2 before he returns to MotoGP next Tuesday and Wednesday, testing alongside the rest of the MotoGP pack.

Alex De Angelis (JIR Moto2, Motobi), who won the Australian Moto2 round and has stood on the podium at the last three races, recorded the fifth time to lead the second row, just three hundredths ahead of recent Moto2 recruit Kenan Sofuoglu (Technomag-CIP, Suter). Twice World Supersport Champion aboard a Honda CBR600RR Sofuoglo made an instant impression on Moto2 when he led last Sunday's Estoril round, eventually finishing in fifth place.

German teenager Marcel Schrotter (Interwetten Honda 125 Team) qualified 17th for the 125 race, which opens proceedings tomorrow. The 125 World Championship is the only crown still to be decided. Series leader Marquez (Derbi) is clear favourite after taking pole position ahead of title rival Nicolas Terol (Aprilia). Marquez currently leads Terol by 17 points.

HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES

Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V): 3rd, 1m 32.244s "It has been a wonderful weekend so far, from the first session yesterday morning through to qualifying this afternoon. I was able to ride fast and consistent and I am delighted we were able to turn it into a front row start. I have unbelievable confidence with the bike just at the moment and that has been coming over the past few rounds. Right now I just hope I can stay in the same postcode as the leader tomorrow because it would be a really great end to the season for me, Honda and the team."

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V): 8th, 1m 32.603s "I would like to be a bit higher in the standings but considering my physical condition eighth is not so bad. This is a short track and the lap times are very close, and so two tenths means two or three positions higher or lower on the grid. This is the position we have achieved and we will deal with it. This morning we did a good job with the set-up of the bike and this afternoon we didn't touch much in the session -- improving by a couple of tenths. Anyway we need to be ready for a very tough race, and it's the endurance over race distance that will be the key point -- 30 laps is a lot. Now I will try to rest as much as possible, and tomorrow I will aim to make a great start and keep the rhythm in the race for as long as I can."

Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V): 9th, 1m 32.886s "Yesterday we started well and we have improved our pace in every practice session, but this afternoon I haven't managed to use the full potential of the bike. I'm struggling in sector three and sector four and this is affecting my lap time. More than the set-up I need to better interpret the lines I'm taking, and also to adapt my riding style. In particular I'm quite slow in two or three corners and this is what is holding me back at the moment. Our overall pace in the rest of the lap is not too far from the riders at the front, so if we improve in these corners I'm sure we can fight for the podium tomorrow. Concerning the tyre choice, if the conditions remain as today I think we will use the hard compound."

Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V): 10th, 1m 32.917s "It has been another negative day for us. I can't get the bike stopped or turned. The electronics don't do the job they should and it is always difficult when I open the gas. It doesn't even work correctly on the straights -- opening and closing the throttle when it wants -- and for me it is really hard to control the wheelies. I am very disappointed because I would have wanted to finish the season in a very different way."

Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V): 11th, 1m 32.925s "This morning went quite well and in the first part of the qualifying session we confirmed the race tyres for tomorrow. But once I came out on soft tyres to post a good flying lap for the grid I could not get the same potential and the rear started to move a lot. The bike was not stable on the throttle and I could not really improve my lap time. We have a good base in race trim which makes me confident for the race, but I must take a good start like in Estoril. I really want to end this season and my third year with LCR in the best way tomorrow."

Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V): 15th, 1m 33.343s "I already had a good feeling with the bike at the beginning of qualifying. We could have done much better than we did, because my lap time this morning was better. But in the end I could improve it and unfortunately that lost me one place on the grid. The lap times are so close here that I can still get a good result in the race."

MOTO2 RIDER QUOTES

Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki): pole position, 1m 36.141s "The last two races weren't good for us -- we had problems with the bike in Australia and I crashed at Estoril -- and that's not the way I want to finish the championship. Finally we got a new frame here, which we improved step by step until we could get pole. I am ready for the race and I want to close the door on Moto2 with a win, if possible, in front of my home fans. It's been a very tough and difficult year, but finally we achieved our goal of the championship."

Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing, Suter): 2nd, 1m 36.247s "It's always good to have a victory behind you, so last weekend's win gives me some confidence here. I'm very happy to prove today that my speed at Estoril wasn't a one-off. I'm quite happy with the bike, I tried hard to get my first Moto2 pole, but Toni was faster. I think we have done a great job during the last part of the season and maybe we can finish it with a podium."

Andrea Iannone (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up): 3rd, 36.255s "I'm happy with the way things went today, especially since my crash yesterday left me feeling a bit worried because I went down on the same foot that I hurt at Indianapolis. We have been looking for more rear traction all weekend, we worked hard on that point and finally we found what we were looking for this afternoon. Hopefully we can have a good race to complete the season."

Scott Redding (Marc VDS Racing Team, Suter): 4th, 1m 36.343s "Overall I'd have to say that qualifying went pretty good. We struggled a bit in T4, that's where we were losing a little bit of time. But I think we have shown a strong race pace, so we'll be going into tomorrow with some confidence."

HONDA 125 RIDER QUOTE

Marcel Schrotter (Interwetten Honda 125 Team): 17th, 1m 42.383s "I had a quite good feeling. Before the pit stop I had some difficulties, as we had some problems in the last section of the track. After the pit stop I had a better feeling and I was even able to improve my time alone, around 13th position.

Three minutes before the finish I wanted to let some others through to follow them and see what they do different, but there was nobody to follow and it was too late to improve. Now I have to start the race from fifth row again and I am not very happy about that."

-source: honda racing

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