South African GP Micheling qualifying report

<pre> SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX, WELKOM Final Qualifying, Saturday April 21 2001 {TC} Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) claimed his first-ever 500 pole position at sun-blessed Welkom this afternoon, winning a titanic duel with...

<pre> SOUTH AFRICAN GRAND PRIX, WELKOM Final Qualifying, Saturday April 21 2001 {TC} Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) claimed his first-ever 500 pole position at sun-blessed Welkom this afternoon, winning a titanic duel with Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin). The pair swapped positions several times before Rossi made sure of pole with just seconds remaining. The front row for tomorrow's South African GP, round two of the 2001 World Championship, is completed by 500 rookie Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin) and last year's winner Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin).

Rossi was dazzling as he went fastest mid-session, dislodging Capirossi from the provisional pole he'd held overnight. Then with just minutes remaining Capirossi went out on new Michelin tyres and cut under Rossi's time, returning to the pits convinced he'd done enough to claim his second consecutive pole. Rossi's reply was as swift as it was devastating, as he slotted in a near-perfect lap, 0.243 seconds quicker than Capirossi.

The World Championship leader's crew had secretly prepared a special reception to celebrate Rossi's first 500 pole ­ the whole crew deserted, leaving Rossi to return to an empty pit! Once they'd reappeared, the former 125 and 250 champ couldn't conceal his delight at achieving another important milestone in his astonishing career. "That was big fight between me and Loris, so it must've been a very exciting session for everyone," said Rossi, who won the opening round of the World Championship in Japan two weeks ago. "I went for a good time mid-session because it can be difficult later on when the track is so busy. I knew that'd put me on the front row, so I was able to relax and have another go at pole. I've a good rhythm but Capirossi, McCoy and Ukawa are all fast enough to win the race. I hope to be able to fight for the win and end up with a podium finish at least."

Capirossi was justifiably amazed that his electrifying lap had been beaten. The Italian, also a former 125 and 250 champ, had become the first man to lap Welkom under the 1m 35s mark, but in the end it wasn't enough. "I went one second faster than yesterday and I'm still second," he said. "But we've been working hard all weekend at finding a good race set-up and I'm confident. We did an almost full-race distance run this morning and though it's going to be a tough race, I know I can fight for the win tomorrow."

Nakano may have been out-paced by the Italians but was impressive as he scored his second front-row start in as many events. The former Japanese 250 champion, who was runner-up in last year's 250 World Championship before graduating to the premier 500 class with Michelin tyres, is showing a superbly thoughtful approach to his rookie 500 season.

"I'm delighted to be on the front row again but it's the race that is important," said Nakano, who finished a close-run fifth in his 500 debut at Suzuka. "I qualified second there and didn't quite make the podium, so my target for tomorrow's race is to finish in the top three. I feel confident I can do that."

McCoy, the man who tore up Welkom last year to win his first 500 GP, ended the day fourth, 0.805 seconds down on Rossi. McCoy's 2000 success was particularly significant since he achieved the victory with Michelin's 16.5in rear slick and his success prompted more and more riders to switch to the radical-profiled tyre that puts more rubber on the road for cooler running and longer life. "I think everyone was expecting me to run up front this year but it's tougher now because everyone else is on Michelin's 16.5!" he grinned. "It's going to be a difficult race with at least five guys going for the win. And it's hot here, so it's going to be tough on everyone ­ the riders, the bikes and the tyres."

Reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) was fifth, just four hundredths off the front row, with rookie Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) next up by a similar margin. Row two was completed by Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) and Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team- Michelin).

-Michelin

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Series MotoGP
Drivers Max Biaggi , Garry McCoy , Loris Capirossi , Valentino Rossi , Norifumi Abe , Tohru Ukawa , Shinya Nakano , Kenny Roberts Jr.