World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) topped this afternoon's windswept opening qualifying session for the Portuguese GP, chased hard by Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Max Biaggi ...
World Championship leader Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) topped this afternoon's windswept opening qualifying session for the Portuguese GP, chased hard by Olivier Jacque (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin) and Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin). Michelin riders filled all but one of the top 12 places on the provisional grid.
Rossi, whose recent Czech GP win suggests that he is back to his very best following a midseason lull in results, took provisional pole despite strong opposition from Biaggi and title-rival Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) who both took their turns on top during the final few minutes.
Going for his sixth pole of 2003, Rossi was fastest when it counted. Second to Gibernau at half distance he had slipped to sixth by the time Biaggi went quickest with two minutes to go when Rossi was just embarking upon on his final run. Exploiting the extra grip of his soft-compound Michelin, the World Champion stormed to pole with a minute to go and then bettered that lap next time around to end the session 0.280 seconds up on Jacque who also surpassed Biaggi in the final moments.
"Although I was fast at the end we've got to work some more to find the perfect set-up," said Rossi, already an impressive four tenths inside last year's Estoril pole time despite strong winds gusting off the Atlantic. "I'm getting good feeling from the tyres but we need to improve our rear-shock settings to find some more grip at the rear end."
Jacque was on excellent form. Currently 11th in the points chase, the Frenchman has yet to score a podium finish this year, though he did start June's Catalan GP from third place on the grid. "We knew we'd improved our set-up during our excellent Brno tests after the Czech GP," said Jacques. "Everything came together this afternoon, now we just need to work on our race set-up, so the bike's also good once the tyres aren't so fresh."
Biaggi, fighting back from a difficult couple of races, ended the day knowing which direction to work in during tomorrow's session. "We know what to do, we'll just need to confirm the changes in the morning," said the former 250 champ.
The Roman's team-mate is also working hard to get back up front after a run of so-so results, and like Jacque he's been helped by useful post-Czech GP tests. "We made some changes to the bike during our Brno tests which are working well here," said Ukawa. "The bike's balance is finally good, now we just need to work on set-up to get some more rear-end traction."
Gibernau led much of the session before slipping to fifth, just 0.345 seconds off Rossi's best. The Spaniard, winner of four races this year and currently second overall, was joined on row two by Carlos Checa (Fortuna Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin), Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) and Jeremy McWilliams (Proton Team KR KR3).