Valentino Rossi and thousands of his loyal fans were stunned in Mugello today as Jorge Lorenzo romped to pole position for the 23-lap Italian MotoGP clash.
While world championship leader Lorenzo was celebrating his second pole position in the last three races, Rossi didn’t even claim a place on the front row of the grid as he could only end a thrilling qualifying session in fourth.
Everything had looked like going to the script when the 30-year-old moved to the top of the timesheets with just seven minutes remaining.
But only a minute remained when Italian veteran Loris Capirossi threatened a major shock when he steered his factory Suzuki GSV-R to top spot in the final minute, ironically while he was pursuing Rossi on his Fiat Yamaha YZR-M1.
But while thousands of Italian fans were poised to celebrate a Capirossi and Rossi 1-2, Lorenzo gatecrashed the party to seize his sixth premier class pole position with a best lap of 1.48.987.
Only 16 seconds remained on the clock when Lorenzo grabbed pole, but worse was to follow for Rossi as factory Ducati rider Casey Stoner put his GP9 machine in second place in the dying moments with a best time of 1.49.008.
That was only 0.021s away from Lorenzo but crucially bumped Rossi off the front row of the grid and silenced his legions of fans.
Rossi ended up 0.161s slower than Lorenzo and the Spaniard was not surprisingly jubilant with his best lap.
The double world 250 champion said: “I’m really happy about this because it’s a great pole position and I’m really excited to be starting from the front at Mugello. During the session we had some problems in T4 and we still need to try to improve a bit in that section, but I am fast with both types of tyre and in the end I was able to do one very fast lap.”
Despite his speed, Lorenzo conceded that team-mate Rossi was still the favourite for tomorrow’s race, with the eight-times world champion setting the most consistent pace on the harder compound Bridgestone race rubber.
Lorenzo added: “My race pace is good and I think that I have the possibility to fight with Valentino tomorrow; in my mind he is still the favourite here. He has a great race pace and he knows how to win here. If I can fight with him then great, but if I have to finish second or third, then that’s what I’ll do. My target is to get a good start and then try to stay with Valentino and Casey, and then I am sure I can be a part of the race. I am very excited and I hope for a great battle.”
Stoner was also delighted with his second spot after he’s suffered a crash during this morning’s final free practice session, though he is still not entirely satisfied with his race pace.
The 23-year-old, who goes into tomorrow’s race trailing Lorenzo by a single point: “said: "We had a great free practice session this morning despite the crash and I was very comfortable with the bike, so I was optimistic about this afternoon.
Unfortunately as we picked up the pace in the afternoon we found some problems with the front and I couldn’t make the bike turn as I wanted it to. You spend a lot of time on the edge of the tyre through the long corners at this circuit and that is where we’re losing time. Second place on the grid is obviously a great position but I know we could have done a lot better so I can’t help but feel frustrated. If I can get the bike feeling like it did this morning then I can definitely fight at the front, but if not it will be really difficult looking at the lap times of the other guys in the hotter conditions. We’ve definitely got some work to do before I can think I’m competitive enough to push for the win.”
Capirossi said he would go for broke tomorrow with the Suzuki rider not in world championship contention.
The 36-year-old revelled in his shock performance and he said: “I’ve got nothing to lose and will be going for it tomorrow. My race pace is not as fast as the others but I’m not too far behind. It has been a fantastic day today, especially because I was a bit angry yesterday and we had a really good meeting with all the team and decided to change a lot of things on the bike. Stuart is so clever because he made the right modifications to the GSV-R and from first thing this morning it was working well.
"Our target is to always try and do our best, but this front row is a great feeling for us. The race is tomorrow but this has given a good lift to the whole team and we will now try as hard as possible tomorrow afternoon. I know that Suzuki has been doing a lot of work at the factory and we now hope that the new engine that is coming to Barcelona will help even more. The race will be hard for everybody tomorrow, but I don't have anything to lose and I will try my best and see what happens!"