Five-time Donington winner Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) set the pace during this afternoon's opening British GP qualifier, chased hard by former World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin).
Five-time Donington winner Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) set the pace during this afternoon's opening British GP qualifier, chased hard by former World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin). The provisional front row was completed by Assen winner Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), with just 0.366 seconds separating the foursome. Much of the rest of the pack was also closely grouped, with the fastest 14 men separated by 1.287 seconds. Michelin riders filled the top 16 places on the provisional grid.
Donington isn't the grippiest racetrack in the world, so Michelin's main focus here is to give their riders as much grip as possible. "We still have a lot of work to do tomorrow to find the right tyres for everyone," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "This circuit is never easy because no one tests here, so it takes a while for riders to find the right set-up so they can then work on tyre choice. No one has done more five or six consecutive laps so far, so there'll be plenty of endurance testing tomorrow."
Rossi, who hasn't lost a race here since 1998, was in masterful form, coming out in front after a frantic final few minutes, during which Bayliss went briefly to the top. Last year Rossi made a disastrous start to his Donington weekend, crashing on Friday morning and putting himself out of action until the next day.
"A pretty good day -- much better than last year!" grinned the reigning World Champion, already four tenths inside his 2002 Donington pole time. "We still need to do some work on finding the right race tyre but we're in a good position. We also need to work on our suspension settings, because we have a bit of a wheelie problem out of the slow corners."
Bayliss was delighted with his day, even though he slid off twice, falling victim to Donington's two slowest hairpin turns, once this morning and once this afternoon. "The bike was trying to tell me something," said the Australian star who tore a muscle in his left arm in the second spill. "Both times it slid and nearly picked itself up but not quite! You have to be careful to find the right way here -- especially at Goddard. The second one happened when I was trying a few different lines at Melbourne, but overall the bike feels good, I feel really comfortable on it."
Gibernau, currently second to Rossi in the 2003 points standings, got to within one thousandth of a second of the Italian in the closing stages, but ended the session 0.331 seconds down. "I still need more dry time on this bike to get the perfect set-up," said the Spaniard, who only graduated to factory RCVs in May. "But I'm happy enough -- the general pace is very fast and I've been pretty consistent."
Checa, who has yet to score a podium finish this year, was feeling good after posting fourth-best time. "We're still not clear on what tyre I'll run for the race but fourth isn't bad for now," said the Spaniard. "The team is working well -- the bike is giving me a positive feeling, which it wasn't at the start of the season."
The second row was led by Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) whose fastest lap was just 0.021 seconds off Checa, and the Catalan GP winner is oozing with confidence because he was running race tyres. Row two is completed by Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin) and Colin Edwards (Alice Aprilia Racing Cube-Michelin). Edwards was a mere 0.624 seconds off pole.