Catalunyan GP: Honda qualifying report

Honda privateer Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) was top of the order for 45 of the 60 minutes in Saturday's sweltering qualifying session at the Circuit of Catalunya. But in the last ten minutes Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) sped to the pole position...

Honda privateer Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) was top of the order for 45 of the 60 minutes in Saturday's sweltering qualifying session at the Circuit of Catalunya. But in the last ten minutes Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) sped to the pole position and Casey Stoner (Ducati) slotted into second. Still, it was three front row starts in a row for the Frenchman, the best stretch of his career, and it guaranteed a Honda would be on the front row of every grand prix this season.

The hyper-fit Frenchman seemed to thrive in the 35C heat, sliding the rear wheel of his Honda RC212V off the long corners of the 4.727k track north of Barcelona. De Puniet moved to the top in the sixth minute, then lowered the benchmark three more times. It wasn't until the 51st minute that Lorenzo went slightly faster, with Stoner turning his fast lap less than four minutes from the end of the hour. And though de Puniet qualified third, he finished the session with more laps in the 1:42's than anyone else, proving that his race pace will be strong for tomorrow's seventh round of the MotoGP World Championship.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) qualified just off the front row, only .080s behind de Puniet, in his home race after a small mistake in the final section of the track. The Pedrosa family roots are in Sabadell, about 20k from the track, and the Spaniard had plenty of hometown support, including a number of family members. One of only two riders to win 125cc, 250cc, and MotoGP races in Catalunya, Pedrosa is hopeful of repeating his win here from 2008. Last season he arrived home in less than peak physical condition and wasn't able to give his fans the race they were hoping for.

With similar temperatures expected for Sunday's race, Pedrosa, and many others, spent the session evaluating which of the Bridgestone rear tires would work best for race distance.

Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) finished the session at the end of the second row in sixth place. The Italian spent much of the hour in the top three, by setting his fastest time on the 11th of his 30 total laps. But he wasn't able to improve on his lap of 1m, 35.105s and found himself slowly slipping down the order. Still, starting from the second row puts him in perfect position to protect his third place in the MotoGP World Championship.

Dovizioso spent the end of the hour on the harder rear tire, while collecting data which he hopes will help him in the race. That he finished on the second row with the harder option bodes well for Sunday.

Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) ended a string of four races in a row of improved qualifying spots, but not by much. The MotoGP rookie qualified ninth fastest, one off his career best, and only .129 secs. off the second row. He might have improved his position, but he ran out of time before he could fit a second softer rear tire. Simoncelli had the use of a new frame and forks today and, once he gets them dialed in, he's confident he can race closer to the front.

Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) rode valiantly in considerable pain to the 14th fastest time. Melandri separated his shoulder during practice last week in Assen and wasn't able to race. A week of intense physiotherapy has allowed him to ride, but his movement was limited and it was a feat just to finish the hour. The intense heat will do him no favors in Sunday's race. Unable to battle for the win, Melandri will look to pick up as many points as possible.

Kousuke Akiyoshi (Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V) won the qualifying battle of the Japanese test riders. Akiyoshi, the Honda test rider racing in place of the injured Hiroshi Aoyama, got the better of fellow test rider, Wataru Yoshikawa (Yamaha), who replaced the injured Valentino Rossi. Akiyoshi's target is to beat his colleague in every session and he was satisfied after having accomplished it today.

The Moto2 qualifying session was as hectic as always, which was something of a surprise. Earlier in the weekend, the Moto2 field had been called into a meeting with race direction to discuss aggressive riding in qualifying. Judging from the reaction of the riders, it seemed to have little effect.

As always, it was crowded at the top with 15 riders on the first second and the next 24 on the next second. The best of them was Andrea Iannone (Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up) for the third time in a row. Iannone translated his previous two poles, in Mugello and Assen, into race wins and was hoping for more of the same this weekend. His pole time of 1m, 47.493s was an impressive .267s faster than the second best.

That honor went to Yuki Takahashi (Tech 3 Racing, Tech3), the Japanese rider who achieved a career best second in qualifying. For qualifying Takahashi had the benefit of a new Tech 3 frame, which the team built overnight. From his very first laps he was confident that he could have his best result, which he did, and he expects that confidence to carry over into the race.

Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Moriwaki Moto2, Moriwaki) rode with a broken collarbone to the third fastest time. The injury, which was suffered last week at Assen, wasn't revealed until he had an operation to correct it during the week. The injury wasn't a problem in qualifying, where he exceeded expectations. The bigger problem was slower riders, which he said were on the ideal line when he was trying for his fast lap.

Championship leader Toni Elias (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) qualified with the fourth fastest time in his home race. Elias hails from nearby Manresa and he has the support of family and friends as he seeks his third win in of the season. After disappointing results in Mugello and Silverstone, he righted the ship and finished a fighting second in Assen. That gave him a 24 point championship lead after six races.

Rookie Marcel Schrotter (Interwetten Honda 125 Team) had a difficult Saturday at Montmelo. He missed most of the morning session when an engine failed, sending him to the ground. The young Bavarian found it difficult to regain his confidence in the afternoon and qualified 23rd.


Randy de Puniet, LCR Honda RC212V: 2nd -- 1m, 42.512s "I was a bit worried about the track temperature and the edge-grip but from the beginning of this afternoon session on race trim I was one of the fastest out there. Then we could work on race set up playing around with different mappings and electronic and after that I moved on soft tyres lapping immediately in 42.6. I really wanted to get this pole position but Casey and Jorge have been very fast today. I am very satisfied about this third consecutive front row and want to thank my guys for their excellent work. Tomorrow for the race it's a different story and we will have to see how the tyres will drop but we have been working on this since Friday so I am pretty confident. I think this could be the best race of the season for me."

Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda RC212V: 4th -- 1m, 42.592s "The second row is not perfect but anyway, the position is not a big deal and to be fourth is ok with the lap times so close here. Today we've been trying the tyre options to check which will be the best ones for the race. It will be a tough race tomorrow because of the heat, and also because of the level of our rivals. Also managing the tyre performance so that we can lap consistently at 1m 43s will be critical. We need to work a little more on the chassis set-up because this morning I felt better than this afternoon. Anyway, we are better than we were at the last race in Assen in terms of qualifying performance, and we had a strong race there. I'd like to be on the front row and I think it was possible but on my penultimate lap I made a small mistake and this cost me the chance. T4 is still my weak point in the lap - the last hard braking point in particular. We will try to find something in the warm-up to fix this. Obviously I want to have a good race in front of all the people who will come to support me and we'll certainly be going for it."

Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda RC212V: 6th -- 1m, 42.866s "I'm satisfied with the race pace and I think we are ready for tomorrow. The second row is not the best position to start but being on the front two rows is the important thing. Also, we were using the hard Bridgestone tyre at the end of the session so this qualifying position doesn't truly reflect our potential. For the race there are many riders with a similar pace and we will have to see how the tyre performance goes tomorrow in these hot conditions and manage our race well. Today we started the session with the soft tyres to see how they affected the pace and rhythm and I think we will use the hard compound tomorrow because it's really too hot for the soft ones. We need to adjust the electronic controls because the bike is sliding quite a lot - due to the characteristics of this track and also because of the heat. I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow. I really like this track and the atmosphere is always fantastic here."

Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 9th -- 1m, 42.994s "I am quite happy because I am convinced that this new chassis and forks are a step in the right direction. The third row is okay, although maybe we could have done better so we'll try to improve our position in the race. I was struggling a little until we put the soft tyre on -- I was running well this morning in the cooler conditions but the temperature was much hotter in the afternoon and I couldn't maintain that pace. I felt better as soon as we put the soft one on so it was a shame we ran out of time to try a second one because I think I could have taken another step forward. Now we have to decide which tyre to use tomorrow."

Marco Melandri, San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V: 13th -- 1m, 43.621s "Tomorrow will be a tough race considering how much I struggled yesterday compared to today. I was struggling for breath but I think this race for me is more like a training exercise and if I can stay on the bike for the whole distance it will give me a bit of confidence. The heat doesn't help but once we get into a rhythm I think we can make it to the end."

Kousuke Akiyoshi, Interwetten Honda MotoGP RC212V: 16th -- 1m, 45.577s "We tried three different set up in qualifying today and I had more grip straight away, maybe a bit too much. The lap times could have been a bit better and I am not so satisfied with that, but I think the direction we went today was right."


Andrea Iannone, Fimmco Speed Up, Speed Up: 1st - 1m, 47.493s "Today was a really difficult today because it was very hot and I had problems with the tyres and the traction. I managed to be fast and I had a good pace, but it was not enough. After some modification on the tyres, I succeeded in doing the best time. Tomorrow I know it will be difficult to win the race, because many riders are pushing hard but I will try."

Yuki Takahashi, Tech 3 Racing, Tech 3: 2nd - 1m, 47.760s" "I am really satisfied because this is a result as much for my team as it is for me. I can't praise Tech 3 Racing enough because they have all been working incredibly hard and it really paid off today. I think my crew were working on the new chassis until midnight, but immediately I had a lot more confidence to push. When I am doing a slow lap time I can't feel so much difference, but when I go down to the 47s and 48s, the front feeling with the new chassis makes a huge difference. It has been a tough period after a good start to the season but I feel confident for the race. Obviously the heat will play a big role but I think we've got a good setting that will help the tyres last the race. Being second means there is only one rider to pass but Iannone will be strong, as we have seen recently. When he's been on pole he's won quite easily, so I hope to give him a tough time tomorrow. But I will certainly be aiming for my first podium which would be a fantastic reward for the whole Tech 3 Racing Team after the effort and hard work that has been put in."

Thomas Luthi, Interwetten Moriwaki Moto2, Moriwaki: 3rd -- 1m, 47.973s "The feeling is quite good. All over the weekend we had a good pace, for sure. I had a good pace in the beginning of the practice already and I knew that all the other guys were coming back and fighting for a faster time. And then on the end I had some trouble with guys that were waiting on the ideal line and it's quite dangerous out there, so that takes the rhythm, so that's why I could not make a faster time in the end. But I'm quite happy with the front row and let's see what happens in the race tomorrow."

Toni Elias, Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki: 4th 1m, 48.089s. "I am happy because we start from the front row and we have a good pace for the race. The work we have done this weekend has been positive and if we get a good start tomorrow we have a chance of fighting for the win. Unfortunately in the qualifying session this afternoon we got held up by traffic and it seems to be something that is happening at every Grand Prix just now. I think we need to have a meeting and discuss how we can change this situation because it is difficult."


Marcel Schrotter, Interwetten Honda 125 Team: 23rd -- 1m, 54.055s "I had a good feeling for the bike at the beginning. My fastest lap was in lap four and all was fine by then. In the first section I was able to stay with the guys and could fight with them around position eleven. Then I might have had the pit stop a bit too early and we changed tyres, which were not good for me as I was sliding the whole last four or five laps. Unfortunately I also had a problem with my hand. It kept falling asleep and I lost the feeling for breaking."

-source: honda

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Randy de Puniet , Marco Melandri , Andrea Dovizioso , Jorge Lorenzo , Marco Simoncelli , Toni Elias , Thomas Luthi , Casey Stoner , Kousuke Akiyoshi , Hiroshi Aoyama , Dani Pedrosa , Andrea Iannone , Marcel Schrötter , Yuki Takahashi