500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX Suzuka / Japan First qualifying session Mighty Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) fired the first shot in the battle for the 2001 500 World Championship by taking his YZR500 to provisional pole...
500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX
Suzuka / Japan
First qualifying session
Mighty Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) fired the first shot in the battle for the 2001 500 World Championship by taking his YZR500 to provisional pole position at Suzuka this afternoon. In warm, sunny conditions the Italian spent much of the thrilling one-hour session duelling for pole with Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), eventually ending the outing three tenths ahead of Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha- D'Antin-Michelin). As ever, the action was fast, frantic and very, very close with just 0.879 seconds covering the top ten riders. @Biaggi was delighted with his performance, the result of a hard-grafting off-season during which the Italian was amongst the fastest at every track visited by the top teams. Yamaha's YZR500 has undergone less radical changes for 2001 than its Honda and Suzuki rivals, and the subtle evolutions seem to be paying off. @"The bike is definitely better this year the Yamaha is now a good package," said Biaggi, who won two races in 2000 to finish the season third overall. "Also, I feel in good form and I believe in the team. We had a few problems in this morning's session when I didn't have much confidence in the rear, but we made a few adjustments to the bike after the session and it was fine this afternoon." @Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli believes this morning's lack of grip can probably be attributed to dust on the circuit, the result of recent safety works carried out to the glorious Suzuka track. "A lot of riders were complaining about that after the morning session but everyone seems much happier now," he said. "Lap times are better than last year and that's good because it means we've made progress since then. Everyone is using 16.5in rears here and most are going for fairly strong tyres because there's a lot of fast turns at Suzuka." @Abe was delighted with his performance today. The Japanese star rarely shows well in qualifying because his ultra-aggressive style is better suited to race situations, but his speed suggest he will be a major contender on Sunday. Abe has already won two 500 GPs at Suzuka, last year and in 1996, and a third win at his home GP would confirm his cult status here. @"We found a good set-up when we tested here with all the other teams a few weeks back," he said. "We've just kept to those settings and are now working at finding the best tyres for Sunday." @Forecasts suggest that poor weather could interfere with everyone's plans for race day. Depending on who you believe, it will rain tonight and tomorrow morning, or later tomorrow and on Sunday. Obviously the forecasts were playing on many riders' minds during this afternoon's session. @"When we heard that it might rain tomorrow we decided to dedicate most of this afternoon's session to finding good race tyres, rather than going for one or two super-quick laps," said third-quickest Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), who ended up just four hundredths slower than Abe. "I only started trying to go really quick right at the end and I was badly slowed by another rider on my penultimate lap, when I must've lost half a second." @Without that costly delay, Rossi would've been right on the pace for provisional pole, which suggests a repeat of last year's thrilling season-ending Australian GP, won by Biaggi, a fraction ahead of his compatriot. Other men likely to play a starring role on Sunday include impressive 500 rookie Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin), Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin), Ukawa, Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin), who were all separated by thousandths, with just three tenths separating all five of them! @World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) was ninth, battling chatter and too- harsh acceleration, with rookie Noriyuki Haga (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) in tenth.