Dutch MotoGP: Chris Vermeulen claims MotoGP pole at wet Assen
Chris Vermeulen once again proved what a formidable threat he poses in rain conditions as he claimed pole position at a sodden Assen circuit this afternoon.
The Australian, who scored a maiden premier class victory in the wet at the French MotoGP in Le Mans earlier this season, claimed the third pole position of his career in Holland.
The Rizla Suzuki rider set a best time of 1.48.555 with 16 minutes remaining to deny compatriot Casey Stoner pole by just 0.017secs.
Chris Vermeulen timed his attack to perfection, jumping to the top of the timesheets just as conditions deteriorated with heavy and driving rain soaking the Assen circuit.
Heavy rain forecast for today’s session promptly arrived and Chris Vermeulen was instantly in the groove, though he never topped the leaderboard until his decisive move 16 minutes from the end.
The former World Superbike championship runner-up said: “Last year I had two pole positions but I’d not even been on the front row this year so I’m very happy. Conditions were really difficult and the wind was affecting me a lot.
“I was building up my speed slowly and I knew a 48.5 was the time to beat. I did a 48.5 but wasn’t sure if it was enough to beat Casey.
“Luckily enough the rain got heavier and the wind picked up so I got pole. The bike feels strong in the wet but we’ve got to be prepared for any condition.”
Chris Vermeulen was only 15th quickest at the end of the three free practice sessions that were all run in the dry.
MotoGP world championship leader Casey Stoner had again dominated the session, much as he as so far in dry conditions.
Casey Stoner first climbed to the top of the timesheets with seven minutes gone when a 1.57.347 moved him a massive 4.298s clear of Kawasaki new boy Anthony West.
A minute later Chris Vermeulen got to within 1.539s of Stoner before Dani Pedrosa showed his newfound liking for rain conditions when he seized top spot. The Spaniard logged a 1.56.759, only to see Stoner snatch first straight back with a 1.54.667.
Stoner had a big moment after 16 minutes when the rear of factory Ducati GP7 viciously kicked snapped sideways as he clipped a white line.
But he remained in charge until the 20-minute mark when triple world champion Pedrosa moved back to the top with a 1.50.132. That put him 0.922s clear of Casey Stoner, who goes into tomorrow’s race holding a 26-point lead over Valentino Rossi. Rossi had a nightmare today and is languishing down in 11th place on the grid.
Casey Stoner reclaimed top spot with 31 minutes remaining when a 1.50.268 moved him 0.136s clear of Pedrosa. On his next lap he posted a 1.48.661 to extend his advantage to 1.471secs.
That was followed by a lap of 1.48.572 that gave him a 1.560secs lead which was gradually cut by Chris Vermeulen as conditions marginally improved before the late heavy rain.
With 18 minutes to go Chris Vermeulen got to within 0.170s of Casey Stoner but just claimed pole after being only 0.007secs clear of the Ducati rider in the first three splits of his fastest lap.
Casey Stoner, who has not been outside the top two in a wet or dry session so far, said: “This morning in the dry I was really happy because we came up with a really good setting.
“We made an extra step and seem to really be on the pace with the race tyre. We are looking very strong it its wet too. The soft tyres are working quite well and it looks like they will last the race distance like they did in Donington Park last weekend.
“I tried a harder tyre at the end but it didn’t work quite so well.”
Completing the front row is Kawasaki’s Randy de Puniet, who denied Marco Melandri right at the death with the Italian confident he’d done enough to secure third place as he tailed Valentino Rossi.
Frenchman Randy de Puniet grabbed the final spot on the front row though with a last lap of 1.49.579 that edged Melandri out by 0.100s.
Vermeulen and Stoner though were a second clear of the Kawasaki ZX-RR rider.
He said: “I am very happy. I stopped a little bit late after my first run and the track was completely wet. I came into the pits waiting for some better conditions and on the last lap I just decided to push at the maximum.
“The front row is very important because I am very fast in the dry. Had I been on the fourth or fifth row it would have been difficult.”
Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for showers but Valentino Rossi’s troubles continued as he finished down in 11th place. He thought he had at least salvaged ninth before Marco Melandri and Randy de Puniet’s late charge, as Bridgestone dominated by claiming eight out of the top ten positions.
With 25 minutes remaining Valentino Rossi was way down in 15th place and at the time a massive 5.505secs adrift of title rival Casey Stoner, who has already beaten the Italian in six of the season’s opening eight races.
He improved his time with five minutes remaining when he clocked a 1.52.754 but that still left him 15th and 4.199s of Chris Vermeulen.
On his next lap he closed the gap to 3.247s but was only 13th, but then a 1.50.474 moved him into 10th. He then clocked a 1.50.392 on his last lap to get within 1.837s of Chris Vermeulen.
Only Colin Edwards (Yamaha) in sixth and Dani Pedrosa (Honda) in ninth managed to get Michelin in the top 10.
Dunlop’s performance in rain conditions was again below par as Japanese rider Makoto Tamada (Tech 3) failed to qualify.
He logged a best time of 1.57.525, with the qualifying cut off point to start the 26-lap race being 1.56.153.
MotoGP qualifying results:
1 Chris VERMEULEN AUS SUZUKI 1'48.555
2 Casey STONER AUS DUCATI 1'48.572
3 Randy DE PUNIET FRA KAWASAKI 1'49.579
4 Marco MELANDRI ITA HONDA 1'49.679
5 John HOPKINS USA SUZUKI 1'49.684
6 Colin EDWARDS USA YAMAHA 1'49.691
7 Anthony WEST AUS KAWASAKI 1'49.807
8 Alex HOFMANN GER DUCATI 1'49.927
9 Dani PEDROSA SPA HONDA 1'50.132
10 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA DUCATI 1'50.169
11 Valentino ROSSI ITA YAMAHA 1'50.392
12 Alex BARROS BRA DUCATI 1'50.402
13 Nicky HAYDEN USA HONDA 1'50.581
14 Kurtis ROBERTS USA KR212V 1'51.259
15 Shinya NAKANO JPN HONDA 1'51.827
16 Carlos CHECA SPA HONDA 1'53.271
17 Sylvain GUINTOLI FRA YAMAHA 1'54.253
Not qualified (Out 107%) 1'56.153
Makoto TAMADA JPN YAMAHA 1'57.525