John Hopkins powered his Rizla Suzuki GSV-R to the head of the third row during today’s qualifying for the Gran Premio d’Italia at Mugello this afternoon.

Hopkins (1’49.478) was on a pole-position pace during his last-lap, but eventually the Anglo-American racer was forced to settle for seventh place on the grid. Hopkins used today’s morning free session to search for the best set-up and Bridgestone tyre for tomorrow’s race, and was pleased with the progress he made throughout the day.

Chris Vermeulen continued to improve on his lap times today, and at the end of the qualifying session he was only 1.4 seconds from pole setter Sete Gibernau on the Bridgestone-shod Ducati. Rookie Vermeulen (P15, 1’50.430) is also sure that he has found the best tyre for tomorrow’s 23 lap race and is looking forward to improve further during the heat of competition. He was able to complete his first full dry session during this afternoon’s qualifying, as rain yet again intervened in the morning.

Sunday’s race is round six in the MotoGP World Championship and Rizla Suzuki MotoGP will be lining up to start at 14.00hrs local time (12.00hrs GMT), as both riders go in search of glory.

John Hopkins:

“This afternoon’s session went pretty well. We’ve got a good race set-up going now, but we’d like to be about a half to three-quarters of a second quicker on race pace. Right now we are doing all we can with the Rizla Suzuki. The Bridgestone race tyres are working really well, the consistency of the grip seems to be good but we’ll really have to wait and see what the weather does tomorrow. As far as qualifying goes, we went out and tried our hardest. It’s unfortunate that we’re not on the first or second rows, but the crew worked really hard and the Bridgestone tyres worked great again – as you can see by their pole position. We will just go out and get the best start we can tomorrow and fight for a top position.”

Chris Vermeulen:

“We made good progress today even though we didn’t get a full dry session this morning – which was a bit of a pain. I still need to learn the track, but we made good steps. In yesterday’s first session I was four seconds off the leaders, being 1.4 seconds off at the end of qualifying shows how far I have come. The unfortunate thing is starting in 15th place, but that’s what you get when you are coming to tracks for the first time. The goal tomorrow is to get a good start and move up into the next group and have a good race with some of the guys.”

Paul Denning – Team Manager:

“Our qualifying positions are not quite what we have come to expect over the last three races, but the performance of the riders and the tyres has been no less excellent today. John was on pole pace on his final lap and another couple of tenths would have put him on the front row. Chris is disappointed with his position but he is only 1.4 seconds from pole and with Mugello being one of the most technically demanding circuits – and the fact that he only rode around here for the first time on a scooter on Thursday – puts everything into context.

“More importantly for both riders is that they have improved their consistency today. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do in the morning to verify the rear tyre for the race – although that may depend on the temperature and the weather. But both guys have stepped forward today and Rizla Suzuki MotoGP is looking to be as competitive as it possibly can in the Grand Prix tomorrow.”

Gran Premio d’Italia Alice Qualifying Practice Classification:

1. Sete Gibernau (Ducati) 1’48.969: 2. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) +0.089: 3. Valentino Rossi (Honda) +0.198: 7. JOHN HOPKINS (RIZLA SUZUKI MOTOGP) +0.509: 15. CHRIS VERMEULEN (RIZLA SUZUKI MOTOGP) +1.461:


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