Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V) put his stamp firmly on the MotoGP category with a scorching 1m 33.990s lap of the Bugatti circuit here at Le Mans to record his second pole position in only his  fifth outing on a 990cc machine. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) qualified second and John Hopkins (Suzuki) completes the front row.


In awkward, gusty conditions the pint-sized pilot proved he is now way more than a mere premier class protégé with a commanding lap that dislodged Nakano from the top slot with just half a minute of the hour-long session to go.

After a wet free training session in the morning, conditions were dry for the afternoon showdown but 15km/h blasts of wind made things tricky for riders. Hopkins was the first to show his hand by topping the board in the opening minutes, before Colin Edwards (Yamaha) squeezed him off the top rung.

With dark clouds threatening to dampen proceedings many opted to get some early fast laps in and no one was more determined to set the pace than home hope Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) who occupied the pole until Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) showed he might be getting to grips with his so far recalcitrant machine by establishing himself at the top of the order with 40 minutes to go.

With 20 minutes remaining Rossi’s position at the top was usurped by Nakano who posted a 1m 35.795s lap to steal the number one position. But of more significance was the steady progress of the Spanish wunderkind Pedrosa who elevated himself to third in the standings with 15 minutes remaining.


Hopkins, who was always on the pace here, made an early bid for supremacy with a 1m 34.795s lap, but Nakano responded with a 1m 34.679s effort to regain the upper hand. The Honda runners were by now finding the measure of this track; Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) hoisted himself to fifth and Dani was still lurking in third – a front row grid position – but patently not quite good enough for this exacting young man.


Nakano then carved another hot lap of 1m 34.201s to put his marker firmly down, but the rapid Japanese reckoned without the methodical work of Dani. He became the first man to dip below the 1m 34s mark (albeit on a modified track) with a scintillating 1m 33.990s lap and with it the 20-year-old established beyond doubt that he is a new force to be reckoned with.

Melandri too was on the move, briefly holding second position before being bumped back down to fifth for a second row start. Dani’s team-mate Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V), suffering from a bout of influenza, was generously fulsome in his praise for his team-mate after his maiden victory in China last weekend qualified tenth, and must be hoping that lauding his running-mate does not become too much of a habit this season.

Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V) qualified 11th for a fourth row start while Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) will have to make do with a getaway from 13th.

Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V) will be encouraged by a grid position ahead of Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V). They qualified 15th and 16th. The top ten riders are covered by less than a second, which promises a tight, tense race tomorrow.

Dani said, “I was not riding so well on race tyres and at the start of the session I didn’t really do a good job. But then, at the end, I focused on the job and I got in to a better rhythm. We found a good race tyre, so I’m happy about that and the set-up for the bike tomorrow for the race, if it’s dry, should be good. I’ll be hoping to make a great start and have a good race – but we’ll have to wait to see what the weather does.”

Melandri was happy enough and said, “The bike worked well from the start in the qualifying session and I found a good rhythm. However, I couldn’t make full use of the qualifying tyre as I hit a bit of traffic which slowed me down. However, I’m happy with fifth position, it’s my best qualifying performance of the season and I have achieved my objective, which was to start from the first two rows.”

“Sure I’m not happy about starting tenth,” said Nicky. “Things felt pretty good this morning. In full wet conditions we felt pretty strong. But in the dry we’re definitely struggling to get some traction and in these long corners I’m losing a lot of time. We’ll just have to put our heads together tonight and come up with a better combination for tomorrow and do the best we can.”

Casey was far from content and said, “It’s very disappointing. I was able to do these times on race tyres yesterday. This afternoon I truggled to go fast on qualifiers. I just didn’t have a good feeling with the bike. I kept losing the front-end every time I touched the brakes. If I can get the bike back to how it was on Friday I should be OK for the race.”

Tamada said, “I did not expect such a slow qualifying session after the positive practice day of yesterday. Today I have not been able to find the same riding feeling of yesterday especially in terms of grip. I’m still too slow in the first sector and I’m not able to go faster with qualifying tyres. As far as the settings are concerned, we should not have any particular problems when choosing the race tyres.”

Roberts said, “The new chassis is definitely a step in the right direction – now we need to take it further. The rain was against us this weekend and we lost valuable time. Sure we were fast in the wet but we need dry time. The bike gets into the corners better with this chassis but we still have work to do, also mid-corner speed is not there yet. We are closer with his chassis and will be closer at Mugello when we have dry track time to work off.”

“I am still having a problem which is preventing me from riding how I’d like,” said Tony Elias “I’ll sit down with the team to try and find a solution as soon as possible. I am still a little nervous on the bike as I don’t have the rear grip I want which is making it difficult to exit corners. It will be a difficult race tomorrow, I hope to make a good start and make up some positions.”

Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) secured his first pole in the 250cc class with a hot 1m 39.733 second lap to relegate the Aprilias of Alex de Angelis and Hector Barbera to second and third.

Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) and Shuhei Aoyama (Repsol Honda RS250RW) showed how much this track suits the nimble and responsive Honda machine by occupying grid slots four and five, while Sebastian Porto (Repsol Honda RS250RW) enjoyed something of an improvement with 10th.

“This is my first 250cc pole and of course I’m satisfied,” said Dovi. “But, I’m even more happy for the great pace I was able to keep from the beginning of the session and even with worn tyres. As it happened yesterday, I could have been faster on the last lap with soft tyres on, but it’s fine. Here, there isn’t much of a gap with the Aprilias and I’m not so penalized in acceleration. For this reason, I want to thank the team, because my bike has been very competitive since Friday morning.”

His team-mate Takahashi said, “At the end of the session I thought I was sixth or seventh, so I was really surprised when I saw my mechanics waiting for me in the park fermé. I was able to set a good time today and lapped very fast even with race tyres. Thanks to the team who did a great job and make my Honda very competitive. I hope it won’t rain tomorrow as I haven’t ridden enough in the wet yet.”

“Today I really can say that I’m very happy,” said Aoyama. “Although I’m not forgetting that there’s still the race tomorrow, which is what really counts. We’ve made good practice sessions with the team and we have the right set-up for the race, so tomorrow can be a good day for us. I’ve made up my mind and I’m going to take the start and the first laps with a certain ease, but then I’m decided to fight for the leading positions. The bike, the team and me are ready to make a good race tomorrow.”

In the 125cc class pole went to Aprilia rider Mattia Pasini who edged out series points leader Alvaro Bautista (both Aprilia). Lukas Pesek (Derbi) qualified third fastest and Honda’s Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R) completes the front row.

Reigning World Champion Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) qualified ninth one place behind Fabrizio Lai (Seedorf Racing Honda RS125R), while teen ace Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R) managed 25th. Domestic hope Mike di Meglio (FFM Honda RS125R) showed well early in the half-hour session but had to content himself with 16th when the clock ran down.

Talmacsi said, “The bike today was perfect and this gave me a good pace. It’s a shame about the strong wind as it made me change the lines in some corners. If tomorrow is dry, I just have to push and take full advantage of my Honda, but if it rains we have to do some adjustments as I wasn’t fast this morning.”

Luthi said, “I was very happy with my performance in the rain this morning. I found a good fast rhythm without mistakes the bike is very good. In the qualifying session I knew I would need to slipstream two fast riders to get a really fast time. But I didn’t find any till near the end of the session when Pasini and Zanetti came past.”


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