500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX @Suzuka / Japan @First qualifying session CAPIROSSI'S SUZUKA STUNNER Little Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) left it until the dying moments of today's final Suzuka ...
500cc MOTO GRAND PRIX @Suzuka / Japan @First qualifying session
CAPIROSSI'S SUZUKA STUNNER
Little Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin) left it until the dying moments of today's final Suzuka qualifier to grab the first 500 pole position of 2001 from lightning-fast rookie Shinya Nakano (Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3-Michelin).
It was a thrilling session at the epic Japanese venue, which hosts the season-opening Japanese GP tomorrow. Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) had been quickest on Friday but couldn't match Capirossi and Nakano in the final showdown. Capirossi's final lap, coming just one minute before the chequered flags came out, was the fastest ever two-wheeled lap at Suzuka, a whole two seconds inside Biaggi's three- year-old lap record. It was also the Italian's second 500 pole, following his first at Assen last year.
"I knew I could get pole before I went out for that last time," said Capirossi, a former 125 and 250 World Champion who is aiming to be only the second rider in history (after Briton Phil Read) to win the 125/250/500 triple crown. "I came into the pits before my last run, told my mechanics to leave the settings alone and just to fit new tyres and watch the screens! Everything went as I thought it would and I've left my mark on Suzuka! But the race will be different, course. I expect it'll be a lot tougher and there are at least six riders who'll be going for the win."
Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli shared the pit lane's amazement at Capirossi's lap time. "It was an incredible lap but I think we can expect a closer race tomorrow," said Morelli. "The thing is that Capirossi may be able to race on that tyre, but we've yet to check the data."
Nakano ended up 0.811 seconds slower than Capirossi a lifetime in current 500 racing when the top ten are often covered by a similar margin. But the Japanese, who has looked smooth and fast throughout pre-season testing, was euphoric with his performance in the run up to his first-ever race on a 500.
"I can't believe it," said Nakano, who graduates to 500s after taking second overall in last year's 2000 World Championship. "But I'm now really feeling the pressure of being at home, and racing a 500 for the first time in front of my Japanese fans, Yamaha and my sponsors. We didn't have a great set-up when we came here two weeks ago but the bike is now well balanced. My aim for tomorrow? Just to get points."
Provisional pole sitter Biaggi insisted that third best was fine for him. "The front row was my target, so I'm happy," said the Italian, who is more concerned about tomorrow's GP. "I expect the race to be a big fight, good for the fans, and with lap times in the high sixes and low sevens. We concentrated on doing tyre testing to make sure we have the correct tyre combination for the race, and we also had a few minor carburation setting problems which we hope to fix in the warm-up."
Garry McCoy (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) completed the front row with fourth fastest time, but the Australian believes he could've been quicker. "I made a couple of mistakes when I was chasing Capirossi we were both on our quickest laps," said McCoy. "I wasn't happy about that, so I just tried to keep my head screwed on and tried not lose any more ground."
Tohru Ukawa (Repsol YPF Honda-Michelin) had been second quickest with just minutes to go but slipped down the order as Capirossi & Co went at it in the final moments. The Japanese had been quickest at the pre- season Suzuka tests and is confident of a useful 500 debut tomorrow.
Double Suzuka winner Norick Abe (Antena 3 Yamaha-D'Antin-Michelin) was next up, two tenths ahead of Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin), with Alex Barros (West Honda Pons-Michelin) eighth, reigning World Champion Kenny Roberts (Telefonica Movistar Suzuki-Michelin) ninth and Noriyuki Haga (Red Bull Yamaha WCM-Michelin) tenth and unhurt following a heavy fall during the session.
Despite earlier forecasts predicting rain today and tomorrow, today has been warm and fine and latest forecasts suggests the sun will shine again for race day.