Michelin Spanish GP qualifying report

World Championship leader stays on top but Capirossi narrows the gap Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) continued his all-dominant form in final qualifying today, staying on top throughout the session and cutting almost four tenths...

World Championship leader stays on top but Capirossi narrows the gap

Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) continued his all-dominant form in final qualifying today, staying on top throughout the session and cutting almost four tenths off his Friday best. And the Italian youngster believes he would have been even quicker if he hadn't been forced wide by a slower rider while going for a super- quick lap on soft Michelins at the end of the session.

But despite his speed Rossi ended qualifying with less of an advantage than he enjoyed yesterday. Pushing hard in the closing minutes, Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) cut his compatriot's advantage to less than four tenths, three tenths down on yesterday's gap, and Capirossi was also slowed on his best lap.

"I hope to become unbeatable," joked Rossi after the session. "But that's not happened yet. We had a good practice session, even though it wasn't possible for me to go as fast as I went in this morning's `free' session. We had a few more problems this afternoon and I lost my best lap on soft tyres when I had to go wide around another rider. Also, we're still not sure on tyre choice, especially the rear, so we'll make that decision after morning warm-up. I expect to fight for victory, but it'll be hard, and my aim as always is to get some points and a podium finish."

Rossi was faster this morning because track temperature was some 12 degrees cooler than this afternoon, and grip at Jerez is particularly susceptible to temperature. "This morning Valentino was just a fraction off the time he did here during the pre-season IRTA tests because the surface temperature was almost the same as it was back in February," explained Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli. "Once the track had got hotter for the qualifying session there was less grip available, so he couldn't repeat that lap time. We expect the weather to keep getting warmer for tomorrow and that will have a crucial effect on race lap times."

Fourth yesterday, Rossi's compatriot Capirossi sliced almost eight tenths off his previous best to chase Rossi down and edge out Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin), who'd gone second just moments earlier. "Second is good," he said. "I tried very hard, though I find it difficult to get a perfect set-up for this track, so we'll be using warm-up to finalise our settings. Everything is good, though I could've been faster if I'd not lost some time getting around Abe on my quickest lap."

Abe was delighted with third, his first front-row start for a long time. Once considered more of a racer than a qualifier, the Japanese star has been on the pace all weekend, running second yesterday. "I'm not usually fast here and I don't really know why I'm fast now," he grinned after the session. "It's nearly two years since I last qualified on the front row, so I'm delighted and so is the team."

Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) was next up in fourth, scoring his third front row in as many races, an amazing performance from the 500 rookie. "I had problems here in '99 and last year I crashed in the race, so I'm hoping for a better result tomorrow, maybe my first podium in 500!" he said.

Last year's pole sitter Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) was fifth, less than three hundredths off row one. Biaggi was the only one of the front runners to continue experimenting with Michelin's 17in rear slick today, though he eventually decided to race with a 16.5.

Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) bounced back from a fall early in the session to go sixth quickest, 0.141 seconds down on Biaggi and 0.176 up on Capirossi's team-mate Alex Barros (West Honda Pons- Michelin). Row two was completed by World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin), who believes he'll be more competitive in race conditions. "We're aiming at consistency over race distance, trying to get the bike to work the tyres less hard on the corner exits," said the American, who won here last year. "As far as riding goes, the bike feels better, but we're probably sacrificing out-and-out lap times for a better race time."

Dutchman Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Proton Team KR-Michelin) leads row three ahead of team-mates Noriyuki Haga (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) and Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin). Local hero Alex Crivillé (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin), Jerez winner in '97, '98 and 99, completes row three.

-Michelin

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Garry McCoy , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Alex Criville , Alex Barros , Tohru Ukawa , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr. , Jurgen van den Goorbergh , Noriyuki Haga