Pole sitter at Suzuka two weeks ago, Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) was once again way ahead of the pack at Welkom today. In warm, sunny conditions the Italian moved to the front with 20 minutes to go, then went out for another run...
Pole sitter at Suzuka two weeks ago, Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) was once again way ahead of the pack at Welkom today. In warm, sunny conditions the Italian moved to the front with 20 minutes to go, then went out for another run with seven minutes remaining, reeling off a couple of astonishingly fast laps to put him almost a second ahead of the pack. At Suzuka he was eight tenths faster than his nearest challenger.
But in the final minutes of this afternoon's session Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda- Michelin) and Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) both improved their times, Rossi ending the session 0.565 seconds down and McCoy a further 0.378 seconds off provisional pole.
"I am using a new system with my team this year," said Capirossi. "We concentrate totally on bike settings in the morning, not even worrying about lap times and that gives me more confidence to attack in the qualifying sessions. This afternoon I did 12 laps to get a feeling for the bike and tyres, then came in for new tyres and did my best times. It's not a difficult track and I think we may even be able to race with the same rear tyre. The big difference for the tyres between here and Suzuka is the weight of the bikes at Suzuka you're carrying 35 litres of fuel at the start, here only 25 litres."
Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli concurred with Capirossi's hopes of running the same 16.5in rear in Sunday's race. "It's not a very soft tyre and if the team makes some small adjustments to the bike set-up, there's no reason why he shouldn't race with that tyre." he said. "Loris doesn't actually like that tyre too much but it gives him incredible lap times so he obviously wants to try and race with it.
"Everyone is running 16.5s here and I don't see anyone even trying 17s tomorrow or Sunday. The lap times seem pretty good already, the track is less dirty than last year but it's bumpier."
Rossi, who won the season-opening Japanese GP two weeks ago, looked as relaxed and in control as ever today, moving into second in the closing moments of the session. And his post-session comments make ominous reading for any of his rivals hoping to avenge his Suzuka victory. "I like the track, the bike is good and I feel we've already got a good set-up," he said. "I feel very confident."
The man who won at Welkom last year, in a spectacular sideways style that started the rush to Michelin's 16.5 rear, was third today and as exciting as ever to watch. "It's good to be back here but I don't think I'm going to have the same advantage I had last time," said McCoy. "Everyone else knows all about 16.5s, so I think the racing will be a lot closer this weekend."
Final man on the provisional front row was Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki- Michelin), who ended today's outing a happy man, just one thousandth of a second down on McCoy.
"We've made a drastic improvement to the way the bike comes out of corners," said the American, who had a tough time at Suzuka a fortnight back. "What we've done also seems to be a big help to the rear tyre and when you do that, you know you're headed in the right direction."
Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) headed the second row, looking in fine form on his YZR500, and just ahead of class rookie Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin).