Double World Champion Mickael Pichon recorded his ninth 250cc pole position of the season in Loket, Czech Republic, from a total of 11 Grands Prix so far, and he will be hoping to record a similar amount of consecutive GP victories with number eight tomorrow morning.
Pichon has notched seven in a row this season, nine all together, and with a lap-time this afternoon almost one second faster than Jamie Dobb's, the 26-year-old is perfectly poised to stand on top of the podium once more. The Suzuki rider, with his newly resecured number-one plate, clocked two fast laps, each time heading the timing screens, after initially struggling to get a satisfactory setup on his machine that caused him to miss the second free Practice. Pichon's second effort, a 1.48.9, shattered the 1.50 barrier that many riders were threatening to break in the 30-minute session. Kenneth Gundersen briefly hit the top for a short spell, and the Norwegian's impressive speed around the hefty slopes of Loket was rewarded with third position overall. Dobb showed the fruits of a week testing in Austria with his 250 KTM by becoming the only other rider to dip below the '50' mark, with a 1.49.6, and earned his highest entry in the gate this season.
Josh Coppins, on the factory Honda Europe machine, was fourth, and Alessio Chiodi, riding a Yamaha, completed the top five. Usual 125cc rider Patrick Caps, enjoying a one-off 250cc outing, surprisingly guided his KTM ahead of Pit Beirer on the Honda for 10th position. Beirer is fighting with Coppins for second position in the standings and may be slightly disappointed with 11th, considering he took pole position in Belgium several weeks ago. Gordon Crockard assumed his usual mid-pack placing with 15th on the factory KTM.
Team Suzuki has been feeling particularly content over the last several weeks, having wrapped up its second consecutive title and stuffed the trophy cabinet with plenty of shiny 2002 metal thanks to Pichon's efforts. An honorary dinner at the circuit tonight for the team's French rider is set to occur but despite their relaxed air and sense of celebration, team manager Jens Johansson is adamant that their indestructible trail of success will continue until the season's end.
"I guess that it's business as usual!" the Swede remarked after Pichon's pole position achievement. "The success we have had this year is something we do not want to take for granted, but it is hard not to get used to the level of Mickael's superiority; I think he really has proved beyond any doubt that he is the fastest 250 rider around."
Commenting on the mood of the team after wrapping up the title in Gaildorf he said: "In some ways, we can relax, and in some ways, we don't want to. The pressure of retaining the championship has gone, but we haven't stopped working; there is always stuff to improve, try and test. Mickael is looking towards the Motocross of Nations now; he really wants to do well there, and we have to make sure that we take something good over to the U.S."
Yves Demaria was the fastest man in the 500cc qualifying session and inched a lap half-a-second quicker than KTM teammate Joel Smets to ride into the gate first for tomorrow.
Stefan Everts, who only needs to finish in the top 10 this weekend to collect his sixth career World Championship regardless of how his rivals perform, may have been feeling a touch of pressure as he slumped to his lowest qualifying position of the season in ninth - one place behind James Noble on a Honda. Everts will know that a safe and secure ride is all that's required, although he is unlikely to want to easily relinquish his 100-percent podium result record of the season so far.
Brian Jorgensen, freshly invigorated after his impressive fourth place finish in Germany two weeks ago, blasted to third in front of Andrea Bartolini, who was the last of the group of four riders all within one second of each other. Roman Jelen rode his Honda to fifth ahead of Javier Garcia Vico and Marnicq Bervoets, while Fred Bolley threw a Yamaha around the track in his first double-moto outing of the season to claim 13th. World Enduro Champion Juha Salminen could only manage 31st and the first reserve position. Husqvarna's Johnny Lindhe does not ride this weekend because of an injured shoulder.
Steve Ramon gained pole position once again in the timed session for the top 10 riders in the 125cc Championship. Third position overall at the moment, Ramon is currently jostling with series-leader Mickael Maschio and second-place-rider Patrick Caps for the 125 title with only eight points separating the trio. The events of the 125cc GP tomorrow will surely swing the emphasis toward one particular contender, and fittingly, in qualification, all three signalled their intent by posting the fastest times. Maschio has second choice in the gate and was almost a second slower than his rival. Caps, who also has the 250cc class to think about this weekend, was only two-tenths of a second behind.
While the two Belgians and the Frenchman will naturally be the focus of most attention, several other riders are planning to interfere in the final developments in the championship - notably factory KTM teammates Erik Eggens and Mark De Reuver, who won both of the qualification heats in blazing sunshine and warm temperatures throughout the whole day.