Motegi MotoGP: Qualifying scrapped after Motegi monsoon

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Torrential rain that battered the Twin Ring Motegi circuit today forced the cancellation of all qualifying sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix.

This morning’s free practice sessions all took place in wet conditions, but the rain worsened in the build-up to this afternoon’s qualifying session and qualifying was abandoned with the 2.893 miles circuit too dangerous to ride on.

As conditions deteriorated shortly before the 125 qualifying session should have started 1.05pm local time, Race Direction members conducted a track inspection just 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the 45-minute MotoGP session.

Race Direction decided to delay the session by 55 minutes with the deluge leaving several large patches of standing water scattered around the circuit.

Circuit staff also placed sandbags on the perimeter at some sections of the circuit to prevent water flooding across the track, but with no let up in the downpour, a decision was taken to abandon qualifying at 3pm. Grid positions were decided on combined practice times, with times posted in yesterday dry practice session counting.

That left reigning world champion Valentino Rossi on pole position after he snatched the fastest spot from Casey Stoner late in yesterday’s dry session.

The Fiat Yamaha rider and Stoner will be joined on the front row of the grid by Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo as the rain curse again struck MotoGP.

The opening race in Qatar was delayed for nearly 24 hours because of torrential rain and Italian Rossi said:” We’ve been very unlucky in these two races and last year as well, because we’ve just had so much rain! This year has been worse though because first we had to delay the race in Qatar and now we’ve had to cancel qualifying here. I don’t think it was such a good idea to come to Motegi in April! So now we’re going into a race after just 45 minutes in the dry and 45 minutes in the wet, and I think maybe it will be one of the most uncertain races ever! We’re lucky because we had a good session in the dry yesterday and so we’re on pole, which is very important for the race here but it’s still impossible to be at 100 per cent after such a short time and with so little data. In the dry this morning our setting worked well also so I think we can fight whether it’s dry or wet, and after all it’s the same for ev erybody. Of course I would prefer it to be dry but above all I hope it’s not half and half, I hope it’s either fully wet or fully dry otherwise it will be even more difficult.”

Perhaps worst affected by today’s appalling conditions was American Colin Edwards.
He had produced a stunning performance in this morning’s wet session to top the timesheets on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1.

Making his first appearance on Bridgestone’s rain tyre, only Rossi was able to lap within 0.5s off Edwards, who was confident of trying for pole position in qualifying.

He will have to start tomorrow’s 24-lap race though from fifth place and he said: ““That was pretty frustrating when you consider the lack of track time we already get now. But it was impossible to ride out there. There was a lot of standing water and it wasn’t even worth going out and trying. This morning was really good in the rain, though I have to say thanks to Valentino and his crew because they got a pretty good rain setting from last year. But this is the first day I’ve been on the Bridgestone rain tyre. I ran it in Jerez in testing but it was just damp and nowhere near full wet. The rain tyres are really impressive. You can actually push them and get load and that to me is a new thing. Now I can push a bit and that was pretty good fun with so much feel. Before I’ve just had to roll around in the rain and not really have the feel to push too hard. The Bridgestone front rain tyre is like their slick, it’s just magic. I’m a front-end guy and the confidence it gives is amazing. It is a bit annoying that I couldn’t go out this afternoon and try for the front row but I’m happy with fifth. It’s a shame I didn’t go out on the soft tyre yesterday but I got a full 19 laps experience on the hard tyre, and that will be the race tyre. If the temperature comes up a bit too I should be in even better shape. So rain or shine I feel ready for a good race.”

British rider James Toseland will start tenth on the grid, though he was slowest this morning in the rain after a severe front fork issue dampened his hopes of gaining experience on Bridgestone’s rain rubber.

Matt Birt

By Matt Birt