Dani Pedrosa delighted a near 100,000-strong home crowd to claim pole position for tomorrow’s Spanish GP at Jerez, a fraction ahead of Valentino Rossi.
In a thrilling hour-long session, Pedrosa claimed top spot with a best time of 1:39.402 as the top 15 riders on the grid were split by less than a second. Italian Loris Capirossi, who won last year’s Jerez GP, will start 15th on the fifth row of the grid - yet he was only 0.989s off pole position!
Pedrosa’s best lap was 0.4s slower than Capirossi’s previous qualifying benchmark set on the 990cc factory Ducati a year ago, but it was enough to edge out Yamaha rival Rossi by just 0.051s.
Today’s result reversed the outcome of the recent pre-season test at Jerez. Pedrosa lost out to Rossi on that occasion, but gained some sort of revenge this afternoon, though his best time was nearly a second slower than he managed on qualifying rubber at the test (when he clocked a best of 1:38.527).
Pedrosa was fastest on race tyres before most of the field opted to run qualifiers in the last 15 minutes when he clocked a 1:40.899s to overhaul early pace-setter Casey Stoner.
Pedrosa, 20, said: “Tomorrow will be a very difficult race because the lap times are very close. Being on the front row was important and we will try tomorrow to make a great race. The set-up of the bike is not so bad so we will see.”
Rossi was content with second place after enduring troubles on race tyres throughout the practice sessions. On his first soft Michelin qualifying tyre he clocked a best of 1:39.878 that put him top of the timesheets for a short time. Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards and Stoner then went faster before Rossi clocked his best of 1:39.453 on his second and last qualifier to head the leaderboard again before Pedrosa’s late intervention denied him a 47th career pole.
Rossi, 28, said: “I am happy because the lap time is quite good. I know it was possible to make a better lap time because last month at the test I was able to go one second faster. The first row was our target but the pace on race tyres we have struggled with yesterday and this morning. We found a good tyre for the race this afternoon and the tyres will be the big issue tomorrow for the race. The last ten laps will be very hard and very difficult for everybody.”
Completing the front row is Spanish veteran Carlos Checa, who finally made a big breakthrough on qualifying tyres today. The 34-year-old has dominated for most of the weekend and he was fastest in the first three free practice sessions. His struggle with Michelin’s soft qualifying tyres appeared to have struck again as he was left languishing down in 16th place until right at the death when he suddenly leapt to the front row, relegating Edwards to fourth.
Checa said: “I believe we will be fighting for the podium tomorrow. I am happy because I have struggled with the qualifying tyres. I had problems all through the winter and in Qatar at the first race so I’ve got to be happy.”
Edwards will head up the second row in front of world championship leader Stoner. Both had led the session at one point while factory Ducati rider Stoner shaved 0.3s off his best qualifying time from a few weeks ago at the Jerez test.
John Hopkins, who has revealed he may require surgery on a damaged ligament in his right wrist (suffered in a testing crash at Qatar last month), completes the second row.
Reigning world champion Nicky Hayden’s nightmare defence to his world crown continued as he could only finish 11th fastest and will start tomorrow’s 27-lap encounter from the fourth row. The 25-year-old is still being plagued by front-end problems with his factory RC212V Honda, and a modified chassis he has tried in Jerez has made little difference in improving his confidence.
1 D PEDROSA 1:39.402
2 V ROSSI 1:39.453
3 C CHECA 1:39.460
4 C EDWARDS 1:39.486
5 C STONER 1:39.524
6 J HOPKINS 1:39.625
7 S NAKANO 1:39.632
8 T ELIAS 1:39.660
9 M MELANDRI 1:39.722
10 K ROBERTS 1:39.727
11 N HAYDEN 1:39.834
12 R DE PUNIET 1:39.883
13 A BARROS 1:40.196
14 C VERMEULEN 1:40.328
15 L CAPIROSSI 1:40.391
16 O JACQUE 1:40.405
17 M TAMADA 1:40.617
18 A HOFMANN 1:40.710
19 K AKIYOSHI 1:41.202
20 S GUINTOLI 1:41.219