Wet Le Mans final qualifier cements Melandri's debut MotoGP front row start As predicted the weather for the French Grand Prix took a turn for the worse during the final qualifying session today, however cementing MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri's...
Wet Le Mans final qualifier cements Melandri's debut MotoGP front row start
As predicted the weather for the French Grand Prix took a turn for the worse during the final qualifying session today, however cementing MotoGP rookie Marco Melandri's debut front row start for tomorrow's 28-lap race. The young Italian posted a 1'36.161 time aboard his Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1 in yesterday's dry qualifier to be the fourth fastest, from a field of 23 entries. This will only be Melandri's second MotoGP race, since the high-speed incident in Suzuka that put him out of contention for the first two races this season. The talented 20-year-old will start Sunday's main event alongside riders in the calibre of polesitter and defending MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Honda, 1'35.208), Alex Barros (Gauloises Yamaha Team, 1'35.985) and third place qualifier Loris Capirossi (Ducati, 1' 36.019).
With no opportunity to improve his time in the wet conditions Melandri spent both free practice and qualifying focusing heavily on finding a competitive wet weather set-up in preparation for what could possibly be a wet Le Mans Grand Prix tomorrow. Although the 2002 250cc World Champion feels confident that he and the team have found what they were looking for Melandri is still hopeful for a dry race for both himself and the fans.
"I'm actually not as happy as I was yesterday as I couldn't go really fast today because of the weather," joked Melandri. "But I can't complain because I'm on the front row and it's only my second race of the year with the M1. Riding this bike in wet conditions is completely different to riding it in the dry but I do have some wet weather experience from winter tests, as we had some really bad weather in our tests in Jerez. Seriously I am delighted with today's result because two weeks ago I was on the fourth row, which was a totally different situation. I also wasn't at my best physically then but I am feeling so much better now. Many riders crashed today so I am quite glad I didn't push too hard. I'm going to keep thinking positive, that the weather will be better tomorrow, and let's see what happens."
For Melandri's team-mate Carlos Checa the poor conditions during the second qualifier had the adverse effect of hindering any opportunity at making an improvement on his provisional grid position. The Spaniard produced a 1' 36.240 in the opening dry session yesterday, placing him sixth behind Max Biaggi (Honda, 1'36.169), and was confident of advancing further up the grid if the conditions remained the same for today... they did not. As with Melandri, this left Checa with no other option other than to prepare the Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1 for a possible wet race, setting the fifth fastest time in the process - 1.513 seconds shy of the web-footed Jeremy McWilliams (Proton KR).
"We've been working on our wet weather set-up and I feel much more comfortable this afternoon than I did this morning," said Checa. "We have tested the right tyres with Michelin and I got a good feeling. There are still some parts of the track where I'm finding it difficult to go faster, at the exit of many turns particularly. I had so much speed and maybe not enough traction. It's quite difficult here to transfer all the power through the tyres onto the asphalt. Anyway we have a good base from yesterday, and I have a good position on the grid so hopefully we will do well. The only thing that we can't control is the weather!"
Fortuna Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio had this to say: "The team have worked really hard this weekend and put in every extra effort to help the riders as much as possible. The weather meant we had to spend a lot of time to find the right set-up and tyres for these conditions today, but with Michelin, the riders and the team we have obviously found a good combination. Marco's performance yesterday and today has been outstanding considering the bad luck he has had until now. It's only his second race with this bike and he is already showing great maturity in his style and his speed adapting to different circuits and conditions. I have every confidence in him for tomorrow. Carlos had a difficult morning this morning but this afternoon with his team he has managed to find a good set-up and he is feeling comfortable for tomorrow. Both riders have good grid positions so let's go for it tomorrow!"
1. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Repsol HONDA 1'35.208
2. Alex Barros (BRA) Gauloises YAMAHA Team 1'35.985
3. Loris Capirossi (ITA) DUCATI Marlboro Team 1'36.019
4. MARCO MELANDRI (ITA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'36.161
6. CARLOS CHECA (SPA) Fortuna YAMAHA Team 1'36.240