Reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) continued his return to form at sun-blessed Rio de Janeiro this afternoon, snatching pole position from Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin)...
Reigning MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) continued his return to form at sun-blessed Rio de Janeiro this afternoon, snatching pole position from Loris Capirossi (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) in the la st moments of the final qualifying session for tomorrow's Rio GP. The Italians were joined on the front row by Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V-Michelin) and Max Biaggi (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin). Michelin riders led the way o nce again, monopolising the front two rows of the grid.
"The times were very fast today thanks to the qualifiers," said Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "But not many of our guys have chosen their race tyres yet because today's conditions were very different from yesterday. This afternoon the track temperature was 46 degrees, and it should be similar tomorrow, but yesterday was 15 degrees cooler, so we've only had one day of 'race' conditions. There are three rears that our riders are considering, and there's quite a difference between the tyres, so it'll be interesting to see who goes for what after warm-up."
Rossi had been fourth yesterday, but only because he left it too late to exploit the extra grip of Michelin's new qualifying tyres. Today the series leader made no such mistake; indeed he intended to make sure of pole by giving himself two runs on qualifiers, though he only needed one to outpace Capirossi. Rossi's fastest lap was a scorcher -- he used the incredible grip of the Michelin qualifier to undercut last year's pole time by a massive 1.5 seconds and score his sixth pole of 2003.
"We've been working very much for the race, so we didn't have time for two runs with qualifiers, but one was enough," grinned Rossi who has a green and yellow hairdo here, in honour of Brazil's national colours. "The qualifying tyre gave me incredible grip and traction so I could do a very fast lap, but we still need morning warm-up to make some last little modifications and choose our rear race tyre."
Capirossi missed out on his fourth pole of the year by just 0.302 seconds but was delighted with his pace in his team's first visit to this bumpy, slippery racetrack. "We are able to find a good set-up whatever the style of track, which is great," he said. "Today we did a race simulation to help us choose tyres, but the changing weather conditions make tyre choice difficult -- it was cold yesterday, hot today and we don't really know what to expect for tomorrow."
Gibernau tried everything he knew to score his first pole since April, overdoing it and crashing on his final lap, but he was happy enough to have made sure of his fifth consecutive front-row start. "I crashed because I was trying to hard to make up for a few set-up problems we're having, but I'm okay," said the Spaniard, currently Rossi's biggest threat in the title chase. "We need a good warm-up to resolve things for the race."
Yesterday's pace-setter Biaggi was the last of the front-runners to fit his Michelin qualifier but he made a couple of minor errors on his final run which prevented him from improving on his Thursday best. "Today we didn't make the improvement in set-up we needed to take us to the next level," said Biaggi who started from pole here last year. "Anyway, I tried to stay consistent, because the race is all about the rhythm."
Rio first-timer Troy Bayliss (Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici-Michelin) impressed once again to lead the second row in fifth. Shinya Nakano (D'Antin Yamaha YZR-M1-Michelin) was next up in sixth, just ahead of rookie Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda Team RC211V-Michelin) who equalled his best GP grid slot in seventh. Row two was completed by Tohru Ukawa (Honda Camel Pramac Pons RC211V-Michelin).