Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner ran the fastest ever lap of the Circuit van Drenthe in Assen, Holland to snatch the pole position for Saturday’s Dutch TT, the tenth round of the MotoGP World Championship.
Five days removed from his second win of the season in the British Grand Prix at Donington Park, the Australian showed that the electronics upgrade that had worked in England worked in Holland. Stoner was quick from the start, turning a series of successively faster laps. He wasn’t always at the top, but was there for much of the hour, and when it counted, at the very end.
Stoner’s 22nd and final lap was a 1:35.520, which seemed unassailable when he set it with about 2:45 mins. to run in the one hour session. And it was, right to the very end when Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa appeared out of nowhere to challenge. The Spaniard was on pace to take the pole after his third split, but faded on the run to the flag. He finished .032 secs. off pole when he crossed the line after time had expired.
Pedrosa’s lap knocked Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi to third and teammate Nicky Hayden to the second row.
The pole was Stoner’s third of the season and took nearly a second off the previous track record of 1:36.411 set by John Hopkins in 2006. Hopkins crashed twice in qualifying, the second one a harrowing high speed slide into the air fence.
Weather played a part in both of Friday’s session. Rain prior to the morning session left the track in less than ideal condition. The wind picked up in the afternoon to the point that Stoner said “it was really pushing the front in a lot of corners where we have to rely on the front a lot, so it was just making things ten times more difficult than they should be.
“Especially with the qualifying tires, putting again more pressure on the front I was losing it quite a lot of times the last three laps.
“Other than that, we had another problem with the dashboard from Dorna. I think we had a small problem and the lap time wasn’t coming up, so we weren’t sure what was going on there. And we had another small problem, so I didn’t get a lot of laps on race tires, but we did enough yesterday to know what’s going on.”
What went on Thursday was that he’d done 13 laps faster than the single best lap of second fastest Valentino Rossi.
Pedrosa was happy with the progress he made throughout the session. His final move came in a jump from sixth to second, a lap of 1:35.552 that he was impressed with.
“So I’m happy to be on the front row, because it’s also the first time in this track,” he said. “And then for tomorrow’s race, we will have to wait for the weather, but it looks a little bit better than today.
“Yeah, it’s quite windy, so this make things more difficult, but we have to look for tomorrow’s race and try to make our best on the race.”
Rossi had been on top until Stoner took him down at the 2:45 mark with what would be his best lap. Rossi was ahead of Stoner’s time in all three splits, but dropped off in the final segment and wasn’t able to take pole.
In order to stop Stoner in Saturday’s race, Rossi said “we have to improve a bit. We make some small modifieds during the practice and also the last run for the qualifying tire that worked well. So we hope that work also with the race tires.
“We have to wait for understand which type of race we expect, because the condition here change a lot and very fast, so is important to understand if this will be wet and dry and how much temperature for decide the tires.
“But anyway, I’m happy, I’m happy because the front row is always my target for the qualification. And we are very close. Unfortunately, I have some small problem with the last tire, but anyway the lap time is quite good and we try tomorrow to make a good start and make a good race.”
Hayden finished .455 secs. off Stoner and only .010 secs. in front of LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet. But he was content with how the Honda RC212V with the pneumatic valve engine worked in its first visit to Assen.
“The bike is working pretty good. It’s worked pretty good since we got here,” he said. “Everything has went OK. We had a little clutch problem and it made our tire changes a lot slower and left one qualifier in the tank that we didn’t try, so that kind of sucks. But bike’s working pretty good. Just, man, try to get a result tomorrow.”
Hayden wasn’t sure he’d be able to match Stoner’s race pace in the 1:36’s, “but the bike’s running pretty good and I’m going to try to dig in tomorrow and try to get a result.”
Behind de Puniet came Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards. Edwards was the session leader with about 25 minutes to run, but couldn’t improve his time and could only watch as others did. He’ll start the race from the end of row two.
Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo leads off row three from the Rizla Suzuki of Chris Vermeulen and Shinya Nakano on the first of the San Carlo Gresini Hondas. Vermeulen is the lone Suzuki rider after teammate Loris Capirossi was forced out by a Thursday practice crash injury. Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ben Spies watched Thursday practice before returning to the U.S.
2008 Assen MotoGP Qualifying:
1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:35.520
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:35.552
3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:35.659
4. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1:35.975
5. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:35.985
6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:36.278
7. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:36.532
8. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 1:36.768
9. Shinya Nakano (Honda) 1:36.804
10. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati)