Casey Stoner produced a brilliant late surge to claim his fourth successive pole position as he edged out Valentino Rossi in Misano MotoGP qualifying this afternoon.
In front of on-looking Ducati Corse chief Claudio Domenicali, Stoner’s best lap of 1.33.918 clocked in the final 90 seconds of the session denied Rossi his first pole position since the Catalunya GP in June.
Rossi looked like he had thrilled a massive home crowd when he jumped to the timesheets in the last two minutes with a lap of 1.34.094. That moved him 0.375s clear of reigning world champion Nicky Hayden, who only seconds earlier had claimed top spot with a 1.34.469.
But Stoner was still out on his last Bridgestone qualifying tyre, and with Rossi watching him on a big trackside TV screen, Stoner was 0.123s up on the Italian’s time in the first two timed split sections. He extended that advantage to 0.174s after three splits and eventually claimed pole position from Rossi by 0.176s as he goes in search of an eighth win in 2007.
Stoner had been typically quick out of the blocks as the Australian first went to the top of the timesheets after nine minutes.
In a frantic final ten minutes, he’d slipped down to fifth but set a 1.34.540 on his first qualifying tyre to move 0.212s clear of Rossi, who only moments earlier had logged 1.34.752.
Rossi was happy to settle for second after his recent problems that have seen him fail to register a podium finish since his stunning victory from 11th in Assen at the end of June.
With his hometown Tavullia just minutes away from the Misano circuit, there is huge support for the 28-year-old as he tries to close a mammoth 60-point deficit on series leader Stoner.
The Fiat Yamaha rider had an off-track excursion shortly after the halfway stage but was always in contention on race and qualifying tyres.
Chasing only his fourth win of the season in tomorrow’s 28-lap race, he said: “This race is very important for me. The atmosphere is unbelievable with a lot of fans with the yellow flags. Because of this I try to give my maximum after all this long wait for a MotoGP race here. I like the track, its not too tight and it is technical. There are some good parts. It is bumpy in some places but not a disaster. I’m very happy to be back on the front row because in the last three races I was not able to do this. The Michelin tyres are working quite well and we can work on the bike in a more normal way. I make a good lap but Casey was faster than me.”
Hayden claimed his second successive front row start as his own resurgence continued. The American has claimed three podiums in the last four races after a nightmare start to the 800cc premier class era. He had been largely anonymous during the session until nine minutes were left when he claimed third with a 1.35.002. He slipped back before a 1.34.469 secured him third.
The Repsol Honda rider said: “Tomorrow is definitely an unknown because I’ve got a couple of tyres I haven’t even tried yet. I struggled a bit on my first qualifier and thought ‘man, I got to reach down and take a few chances.’ I had a bit of chatter but the qualifying tyres were really good. Michelin is working hard and that’s encouraging. I squeezed on the front row, which is really important here. Parts of the track I’m good at and I’m sure it will be a good show and I need to be part of it.”
Kawasaki’s Randy de Puniet had to settle for fourth after he had spent a fair chunk of time leading the session. He posted a best of 1.34.506, which just edged out factory Suzuki rider John Hopkins, who is taking the Frenchman’s seat at Kawasaki in 2008.
Chris Vermeulen had led too at one stage, but he eventually had to settle for eighth place with his best of 1.34.717 finishing 0.799s adrift of Stoner.
Italian Marco Melandri finished 12th as he tried to shrug off a massive crash this morning. He complained of back pain and posted a 1.35.236.