Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner took the final pole position of the year, and the final qualifying session before the abolition of qualifying tires, in the rain-interrupted session in advance of Sunday’s season-ending Valencia Grand Prix in Spain.
The session started with spots of rain and it rained again in the middle, putting a premium on those who could take advantage of the dry conditions.
Stoner was the best at it, the outgoing world champion and Bridgestone runner throwing down a lap of 1:31.502 mins. to claim his ninth pole of the season. The time was half a second down on Valentino Rossi’s record pole of 1:31.992 from 2006. Rossi got caught in traffic on his final qualifier and ended up tenth.
“Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t the best session,” Stoner said. “It looked like it was going to rain in the middle. And we were going to put in a qualifying tire very early just to get one in before the rain, but I really wanted to get a good race set-up because the bike didn’t feel good at the beginning of the session and we really needed to get it a little bit further along before we decided to put qualifying tires. I’d rather come from further back on the grid with a decent set-up than go from first to last in no time at all.
“We ended up getting a fairly decent setting and luckily the rain held off and we were able to get our qualifying tires on. The tires were working really good today. The only problem was on the last tire, my rear brake lever came loose and started spinning on us, so my foot started slipping off it and I wasn’t really comfortable going into a couple right hand turns. Other than that, everything’s working really well and, you know, we’re in a good position to start the race tomorrow and hopefully it stays nice and cool.”
Stoner put his mark on the board with over eight minutes remaining in the session, giving the other 17 riders plenty of time to take a run at it. A few got close, but no one could match it. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa came closest. The Spaniard finished the hour just .053 secs. down in the run-up to the final of his three home races.
“Yes, it was a tough, tough practice, because it was raining a little bit in the middle so we wanted to continue on the race tires, but we had to stop and change the tires and put the qualifiers on,” he said. “I did not well in the first three qualifiers, but finally I get one good lap time. So front row is good here. It was important. And yeah, we hope tomorrow the weather is good and we can still in the warm-up continue with the time looking for the set-up.”
In his last race for the Repsol Honda team, Nicky Hayden qualified third fastest. Hayden, who will move to the Ducati Marlboro team starting with the Monday Valencia test, had been the rider to beat for most of the session. He went to the top 11 minutes in and lowered the mark three times. It wasn’t until there were less than 15 minutes remaining in the session that Stoner bested Hayden by half a second. Stoner lowered it one final time and, though Hayden made a run at him, he came up short by .201 secs.
“Yeah, certainly the hour went quick this afternoon,” Hayden said. “But we went out on race tires and was having a pretty good, you know, trying to get up to speed and get some settings. And when it started to rain, the team did a great job. They had the other bike set up with qualifiers on. So I came in and used two out of the gate and got in a pretty decent time. You know, went back and tried some stuff on race tires. But it’s hard to go from qualifier back to race tire. Was a little bit sketchy.
“But we’re on the front row, so I guess I shouldn’t be too bummed. Certainly things this weekend have went really good. Would’ve been really nice to be on pole.
“You know, I thought we had a chance at it. I did 32.0 and I knew to get down in that mid-31’s I was going to have push hard and really hang it out and I did. Maybe I pushed a little bit hard in places. I was a little bit loose.
“But, you know, it would have been nice to be on pole today, especially Michelin’s last race. (Bridgestone will be the control tire in 2009 and the limited number of tires does not include qualifiers.) I think it would have been nice for them. They did a lot for me, so I tried to give them a nice going out present. But all in all we’re on the front row. The team, Honda, Repsol, everybody’s doing a great this weekend and working really hard for me. So we just need to try to get us a result tomorrow when it really counts.”
Tech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards and James Toseland led off row two, separated by .306 secs. LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet was just behind Toseland.
Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo was seventh on a third row he shared with Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi and JiR Team Scot MotoGP’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Rossi was next, down in tenth and a full 1.4 secs. behind Stoner. As time was winding down, Rossi was forced by traffic to put two laps on his qualifier and he was unable to improve. His best time came with about 11 minutes remaining and put him just ahead of Alice Team’s Toni Elias (Duc) and Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen.
The fifth row was made up of Alice Team’s Sylvain Guintoli (Duc), Kawasaki’s John Hopkins, and San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Shinya Nakano.
1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:31.502
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:31.555
3. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1:31.703
4. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:32.212
5. James Toseland (Yamaha) 1:32.518
6. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:32.572
7. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:32.594
8. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:32.614
9. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:32.734
10. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:32.962
11. Toni Elias (Ducati) 1:32.983
12. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 1:33.017
13. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati) 1:33.352
14. John Hopkins (Kawasaki) 1:33.681
15. Shinya Nakano (Honda) 1:33.767
16. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 1:33.848
17. Anthony West (Kawasaki) 1:33.879
18. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 1:34.174