Competitive qualifying puts Stoner and Melandri on front row Ducati's Casey Stoner and Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri will start tomorrow afternoon's Malaysian Grand Prix from second and third positions after a nail-bitingly...
Competitive qualifying puts Stoner and Melandri on front row
Ducati's Casey Stoner and Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri will start tomorrow afternoon's Malaysian Grand Prix from second and third positions after a nail-bitingly close qualifying hour in Sepang today split the front three by just 0.067s. Honda's Dani Pedrosa took pole position but Stoner and Melandri's strong performances ensured that two Bridgestone riders will start from the front row of the grid for the first time since the US GP back in July.
Kawasaki continued their recent impressive form; riders Randy de Puniet and Ant West will occupy fourth and fifth positions on the second row of the grid, the team's best combined qualifying result of the year. Suzuki duo Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins will line up in seventh and tenth places respectively while Honda Gresini rider Toni Elias finished in eighth spot.
In this morning's free practice hour, with track temperatures hovering just over the 30-degree mark, Bridgestone-shod riders were able to complete some representative times in race trim with Casey Stoner only one-tenth-of-a-second shy of the best race lap set by Loris Capirossi in last year's race. Stoner's pace-setting time of 2m02.291s was over two-tenths clear of the chasing pack led by Kawasaki's De Puniet and Suzuki's Hopkins in second and third.
Some riders were able to complete some consecutive runs on the hard Bridgestone slicks on offer this weekend, with some encouragingly quick and consistent lap times. The two Kawasaki riders both completed a ten-lap unbroken long run, almost half race distance, with West joining his team-mate De Puniet in the top five. Managing tyre degradation levels will be important in tomorrow afternoon's 21-lap Malaysian GP, as riders experience the new Sepang asphalt for the first time over a complete 116.5km race distance.
Tyre Talk with Tohru Ubukata - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Race Tyre Development
How difficult is it to produce qualifying tyres for such a long lap and with new asphalt?
"It is never easy to produce qualifying tyres for a circuit like Sepang, especially with the new asphalt, because the long lap means that we have to produce harder specification qualifying tyres to give riders the optimum grip over the full lap. When we have new parameters like the new asphalt, this makes our work a little tougher, so I am very happy overall with our performance in qualifying today. Casey and Marco were both so close to the pole position time and it is the first time since Laguna Seca that we have two riders on Bridgestone tyres on the front row. Kawasaki also performed very well and it is great to see both Randy and Anthony on the second row, also considering the potential they have shown with race set-up."
How have track conditions changed during the weekend?
"This morning we could start to see the lap times coming down to more representative levels, but the track got quite a bit warmer this afternoon which seemed to affect overall grip levels and lap times. Only Casey and Marco lapped under 2m03s on race tyres this afternoon, compared to seven riders this morning, so we could see slower lap times in tomorrow afternoon's race if we have similar weather conditions to today. The Kawasaki riders both carried out consecutive ten lap runs this morning, around half race distance, and the consistency and speed of the hard specification race tyres appears quite encouraging. I believe that managing the tyres will be very important in the race and we will only know how our tyres cope with the full race distance tomorrow afternoon, so this remains a question mark."