Brilliant Simoncelli Second Quickest, Lorenzo on Pole
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) was Honda’s star performer in qualifying for tomorrow’s Portuguese Grand Prix, the Italian ending this afternoon’s session second quickest, just 0.133s slower than pole-sitter Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha). Honda RC212V riders packed the first two rows of the grid with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) third fastest, Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) fourth and Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) sixth.
The weather at Estoril – close to Portugal’s Atlantic coast – has been typically changeable since the action got underway yesterday morning. Following heavy rain yesterday afternoon, stormy grey clouds threatened at the start of qualifying, encouraging riders to get down to business and immediately chase the fastest-possible lap time in case of a cloudburst. In fact the rain didn’t come, though the track was still damp in places from overnight rainfall, with Lorenzo’s best lap 1.4s off the pole position record. More rain is forecast for tomorrow.
Simoncelli has been in top form since arriving here, the tall Italian proving once again that he improves with every race. Four weeks after he led the race at rain-soaked Jerez, Simoncelli dominated free practice and led most of qualifying here. During different stages of this afternoon’s session he came under pressure from Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Ben Spies (Yamaha), but he always responded with a faster lap time. In the final few minutes, however, he slid off and was unable to prevent Lorenzo from taking pole position, his fourth in a row at Estoril. This is Simoncelli’s second front-row start in MotoGP and his best-ever grid position in the premier class, following his third place in qualifying for last year’s season-ending Valencia GP.
Pedrosa was happy with third place, considering that this is his first weekend on the bike since he underwent further surgery on the left shoulder he injured at Motegi last October. After Jerez, surgeons operated to relieve pressure on a pinched artery that had been interrupting blood flow in the shoulder. So far, the surgery seems to be a success, but Pedrosa says he won’t know for sure until he has ridden full-race distance. This afternoon he was just 0.030s slower than Simoncelli and is confident that he can race with Lorenzo if he makes some minor set-up tweaks to his RCV.
Stoner had a difficult Friday, struggling to find a good set-up for this tricky racetrack, and with this morning’s session spoiled by a mostly damp track, the Australian had little chance to improve things for qualifying. Winner of the season-opening Qatar GP, Stoner’s main focus here has been improving machine performance during braking and in the middle of the corner. During qualifying the bike did start to work better, but when he knuckled down to his final runs, he couldn’t get the grip he wanted from the soft rear tyre. Nevertheless, he is running fast – a mere 0.060s off the front row and only 0.223s off pole.
Dovizioso got to grips with Estoril today, pushing harder than he had yesterday thanks to improvements to his RCV’s front end. The Italian – who ended qualifying 0.912s behind Lorenzo – still has work to do in morning warm-up, so he will be hoping for a dry session to allow him to run a faster pace during the race.
Simoncelli’s team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) ended the afternoon in 11th position, 1.336s off pole. The former 250 World Champion – who finished a brilliant fourth at Jerez – is convinced he could have been closer to the front of the grid if he hadn’t made a mistake on his final qualifying run.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V) had another challenging two days of practice and qualifying, the Spaniard still unable to find a set-up that works for his radical riding style. Indeed he struggled particularly today because the relatively low track temperatures prevented him from generating enough heat in the rear tyre.
Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex) kept his 100 per cent pole-position record in the Honda-powered Moto2 series with another perfectly timed charge to the front. The young German, who took pole and the win in Qatar and pole at Jerez, went fastest on his final lap to out-pace Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter) who had bounced back from a minor tumble earlier in the session. Final man on the front row is Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2-Suter), who had been on top with six minutes to go. The Spaniard ended the session 0.151s down on Luthi.
Reigning 125 World Champion and fast Moto2 rookie Marc Marquez (Team Catalunya Caixa Repsol-Suter) was also in the running for pole, but he couldn’t quite find the speed on his final run and ended up fourth, 0.168s down on Simon. Marquez – the star of preseason testing – will tomorrow go for his first Moto2 points score, after DNFs at the first two rounds.
Marquez will be joined on the second row by Dominique Aegerter (Technomag-CIP-Suter) and Michele Pirro (Gresini Racing Moto2-Moriwaki), who both fell during the session. Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing Moto2-Moriwaki) leads row three.
Jerez winner and World Championship leader Andrea Iannone (Speed Master-Suter) had another difficult qualifying session, ending up 14th fastest. That will make tomorrow’s race a tall order, but remember that the hard-riding Italian qualified 16th in Qatar and finished the race in second place, and won at Jerez from 11th on the grid.
As is usual in Moto2 the lap times in qualifying were very close, with the top 16 riders covered by just 1.155s. And there were plenty of fallers during the session, many of them at the tricky slow-speed first turn.
Marco Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 2nd – 1m, 37.294s
“There’s a bit of disappointment and there’s no use hiding it because after dominating the two sessions yesterday and then this afternoon the pole position was in my hands. Unfortunately I made a little mistake which prevented me from improving my fastest lap. Anyway, turning our attention to the race I have to be happy because my race pace is quick and I am confident with the bike even though we have a little problem with the front. The front tyre available to us is a little soft for us and moves around a lot so maybe a harder option would have been better. We have improved the grip on the rear so I think tomorrow we can be fighting for the win if not the podium. To be annoyed at not being on pole position is not a bad thing. Tomorrow will be a tough race but I’m ready to fight and give my all. ”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 3rd – 1m, 37.324s
“I’m very satisfied with this front row today. It was a very close session as it always is in this circuit and our main target this afternoon was to be on the front row, so I’m happy about this. For tomorrow, we will try to set up our bike a bit better for the race distance. I know that physically it will be tough for me because after the recent surgery my shoulder has improved a little but it is still very stiff and the muscles hurt. Anyway, I hope to be able to stay with Lorenzo because for sure he will be consistent and that will be one of the key points in the race. The weather is nothing that we can change, so we will need to also be ready to do our best in any condition.”
Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda: 4th – 1m, 37.384s
“Today hasn’t really been that great for us either, this morning’s session was pretty much a waste of time we were just working on our wet setting that we weren’t really happy with in Jerez. We improved that situation a little and we can hopefully expect a better feeling next time in wet conditions. This afternoon we continued on from yesterday, trying to find a better balance under braking and mid-turn corner speed but it wasn’t until towards the middle, end of session that we started to make some improvements with the bike. Every time I went out the balance didn’t feel correct so we tried to go in another direction, finally we found the right route and we improved a little bit more each run after that, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to use the qualifying tyre like I wanted to. When I went out there with the only new tyre that we had for the session, I made a few mistakes in the early laps so didn’t really use the best of the tyre. I think the race potential is there now and hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 6th – 1m, 38.073s
“It is important to start from a good position so I’m happy to start from the second row tomorrow. We worked on the setting and stability in the front improved so I could push more this afternoon, compared with yesterday. I rode quite consistently but I wasn’t able to gain some more tenths and lap under 1m, 38s. We have two points we would like to work on tomorrow so I hope that the track conditions are fine during the warm up. Today’s result gives us more confidence for the race after a difficult session yesterday".
Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 11th – 1m, 38.497s
“The track conditions were really difficult with a lot of humidity out there and it was hard to stay on line. Anyway, I found a good set-up and I was quite confident with the tyres – definitely better than yesterday. We still have a few small problems but we will analyse the data and try to solve them. I could have ended up with a better position but unfortunately I made a little mistake that cost me a good lap time and a higher placing on the grid.”
Toni Elias, LCR Honda MotoGP: 17th – 1m, 39.894s
“Unfortunately we are back to our initial set-up problems. The track temperature in the afternoon was too low compared with yesterday and we struggled to warm up the rear tyre. Then we started to have some front grip issues through the session and I was losing the front in many corners. Yesterday I was more positive about my feeling on the bike but in these conditions I could not warm up the rear tyre and I am a bit frustrated now. We’ll see if we can fix this problem because I know I can be faster than this.”
Stefan Bradl, Viessmann Kiefer Racing-Kalex: pole position – 1m, 41.591s
“I’m really surprised to get pole. The big problem here has been the weather. We got some new chassis parts for this race, which we tried yesterday and this morning, which wasn’t easy in the conditions, and step by step we came back to our standard set-up and made another small settings change for qualifying. I pushed as hard as I could on the last lap. I didn’t expect pole, but it’s nice to get it. It was difficult because a lot of riders were crashing, so we saw the yellow flags many times. In these conditions it’s difficult to get a fast lap time and stay safe. I won my first Moto2 race here last year in the damp, but tomorrow I want it to be either wet or dry, not in between.”
Thomas Luthi, Interwetten Paddock Moto2-Suter: 2nd – 1m, 41.754s
“It’s been a difficult weekend for sure because the weather and the track is different every session. This afternoon I wanted pole and we got close, but Stefan did it. Anyway, I am quite happy with second. The important thing is to have a good race pace and that’s what we’ve got. I am hoping it’s dry, and properly dry, so that I can be confident of fighting for the win.
Julian Simon, Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2-Suter: 3rd – 1m, 41.905s
“Now we are starting to get a good feeling with the bike. Qatar was no good, Jerez was a little better and here is better still. Our objective for tomorrow’s race is the top five, and if we can get on the podium it will be perfect for us. The different conditions make it difficult for everyone, especially this afternoon when a few wet patches made it difficult to control the bike. The plan is to get a good start and then fight at the front.”