LOSAIL, QATAR, APR. 10 – Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner began his quest for a fourth consecutive win in the Qatar Grand Prix by taking the pole position on a warm night in the desert.Stoner lapped the 3.343-mile Losail International Circuit in a time of 1:55.007. The lap came on the softer of the Bridgestone rear tires amid a string of four flyers that began just past the mid-point of the session. He took encouragement from setting a nearly idential time of 1:55.024 on race rubber.The pole was the 19th of Stoner’s MotoGP career and 23rd overall.”This is the best way we can start off because we’ve been slowly improving the bike in testing and we’ve been getting faster and faster and understanding this engine a lot more,” Stoner said. “We’ve been able to get the most out of it since the beginning and getting used to a few things that were quite a lot different to the old engine. We’re definitely getting more comfortable with the bike but we’ve arrived at a point now where I’m happy and we understand how we need to set the bike up. For this race everything is working perfectly and we couldn’t ask for a lot more. You always have some more issues to get rid of but we’ve got to be happy with pole position and quite a good set-up for the race.”Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi was .355 of a second behind Stoner and not optimistic about the race. Rossi couldn’t make the most of the softer of the two Bridgestone rears and had to settle for second.”For sure tomorrow will be difficult to stay with Casey, but we are not so far, so the second position is a good position for start,” he said. “Unfortunately with the soft tire I wasn’t able to improve enough to do the pole position, because the rear slide a bit too much. So we suffer a little bit more than we expect. But, anyway, is OK. Second position is good and tomorrow we try to improve a bit our setting and we try to go with him.’Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo was a close third while riding with a damaged right hand. The hand, which he hurt while riding minibikes with Carlos Checa, didn’t give him as much trouble as he’d expected, but he hadn’t been able to test it at race distance.”Well, lucky for me the hand is quite good, is much better than the test,” he said. “Now the problem is that the bike doesn’t work so well, especially in the rear tire. So now we are struggling quite a lot to get fast and to get close to Casey and Vale. But anyway the bike is maybe not more improving for tomorrow, so I have to fight with what I have.”Frenchman Randy de Puniet qualified a surprising fourth and first Honda on the LCR machine. He put his result down to hard work over the winter and long runs on race tires.”Honestly, I was not expecting such a brilliant result but I am very happy and want to thank my crew,” he said. “Tomorrow’s start is really important if I want to close the gap to the front riders.”Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi recovered from a Friday crash to qualify fifth for what will be his record-extending 300th Grand Prix.”I am pleased for the team because they made a huge effort after I destroyed a bike last night and the guys didn’t get to sleep until about five o’clock this morning,” he said.The factory Repsol Hondas followed, Andrea Dovizioso at the end of row two and Dani Pedrosa on the row three pole. Next to Pedrosa were Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards and Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden.Top rookie honors went to Hiroshi Aoyama on the Interwetten Honda MotoGP entry. The last-ever 250cc World Champion edged out fellow rookie Ben Spies by only .044 of a second. Pramac Racing’s Mika Kallio (Duc) filled out the fourth row.MotoGP Qualifying:1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:55.0072. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:55.3623. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:55.5204. Randy De Puniet (Honda) 1:55.8315. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:55.8896. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:55.9637. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:55.9908. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:56.0059. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:56.16310. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 1:56.22711. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:56.271
Stoner Takes Qatar Pole
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.