Sepang MotoGP: Dani Pedrosa spares Michelin blushes with pole

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Dani Pedrosa stormed to pole position in the dying moments of today’s qualifying session in Sepang to spare Michelin’s blushes.

Only Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden in sixth and Valentino Rossi in ninth were the other Michelin riders to break into the top ten as Spaniard Pedrosa claimed his third successive pole position.

Dani Pedrosa produced a brilliant last lap of 2.01.877 to deny new world champion Casey Stoner a sixth pole of the season. That best time was just 0.041s clear of the Australian, who thought he had done enough to secure pole for tomorrow’s 21-lap race when he’d logged a 2.01.918 just moments earlier. That had moved him 0.284s clear of compatriot Anthony West, who looked like securing his first front row start until late bursts from factory Kawasaki team-mate Randy de Puniet and Gresini Honda rider Marco Melandri.

Pedrosa had been fastest earlier in the session on race tyres as he was the only Michelin rider who looked like seriously threatening Bridgestone’s domination. At one stage only two Michelin riders occupied positions in the top ten, but Pedrosa’s flying last lap restored some pride for Michelin, who look certain to lose Valentino Rossi in 2008.

Stoner had to settle for second place after he had ended free practice with the overall best time.

Chasing a 10th victory of the season tomorrow, Stoner seized control with seven minutes remaining when he posted a lap of 2.02.144 to move just 0.058s clear of West. He bettered that time with his fastest lap of 2.01.918, but it still wasn’t enough to deny Pedrosa, though Stoner has now only failed to qualify on the front row once since the British GP in late June.

Marco Melandri claimed the last place on the front row in a dramatic finale. The Italian was one of the fastest and most consistent riders on race tyres during the session, and he jumped to second place on his first Bridgestone qualifying tyre with 16 minutes remaining. Randy de Puniet, who crashed unhurt at Turn 2 after just eight minutes, thought he had claimed only his third front row start of the season when he jumped to third right at the end. But seconds later Melandri posted a 2.01.944 to claim only his second front row start of the season.

Melandri and de Puniet’s surge relegated long-time leader West down to fifth, which is still his best qualifying result of the season.

West opted to run his first qualifying tyre with only 33 minutes gone and a 2.02.202 saw him open up a big advantage of 0.490s over French team-mate Randy de Puniet.

That time stood for over 20 minutes but West still looked to be part of an all-Australian front row when with two minutes remaining Chris Vermeulen seized third place.

West couldn’t better his time on his second qualifying tyre and he will start fifth, two places in front of factory Suzuki rider Vermeulen, who dropped to seventh.

Former world champion Nicky Hayden will occupy the last place on the second row as he was also bumped off the front row in the late drama.

The American had claimed third with just 35 minutes remaining on the clock with a 2.02.225 that was just 0.081s off Stoner.

He finished 0.348s off team-mate Pedrosa, while Rossi’s nightmare weekend continued as he faces a massive task to claim his 100th premier class podium tomorrow.

The seven-times world champion will start ninth on the grid having clocked a best time of 2.02.466. He was languishing outside the top ten on race tyres but seemed to have rescued a desperate situation with eight minutes left when he moved into second with his best of 2.02.466. He ended up ninth while the next best Michelin rider was Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards down in 13th.

British rider Chaz Davies will start 17th having set a best time of 2.04.197.


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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt