LOSAIL, QATAR, APRIL 7 – Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo sped to the pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, dropping World Champion Casey Stoner and his Repsol Honda to second, while Cal Crutchlow earned his first MotoGP front-row start with an inspired third.
Stoner had been on pole for the past three races in Qatar, and was fast for most of the session. His third lap was his best and the time held up for most of the hour. He bettered it late in the session to strengthen his position, only to see Lorenzo top him two minutes later. Stoner briefly took it back before Lorenzo sealed the pole with a lap of 1:54.634 with 2:45 remaining in the hour.
“Well it’s clearly something changed this year, no?” Lorenzo asked when reminded he had only two poles all of last year. “We are more competitive, not only me, also Cal [Crutchlow] is in third position very close to me, very close to the pole position. Ben [Spies] is there, Andrea [Dovizioso]. So Yamaha is working really well. we have some problems in the maximum speed that we have to solve in the future. But anyway in the corners, and especially in the entry of the corners the bike is working very well and I feel very confident and very comfortable riding it.”
Stoner was disappointed that he wasn’t able to improve his motorcycle, more than his second place starting spot. The World Champion said he and the team had tried everything, going in a circle and ending up where they’d started. His biggest problem this season has been chattering and it was as bad as ever tonight.
“We got the chattering issue back a huge amount,” he began, “and as soon as we put the soft tire in it just sort of doubled whatever we had because of the extra grip. So it’s something we found whenever we put new tires on – chattering was a little bit worse – and then we’d slowly try and weed it out and we got to a point where we were happy.
“But, yeah, we’ve gone full circle and come back around to where we were. So we’ve got a lot of work to do tonight. We’re going to have to go across everything that we did over these last few days and try and come up with something. But, yeah, we need something for warm-up before the race tomorrow, otherwise it’s going to be a long hard slog with this bike.”
Crutchlow (1:55.022) said that being on the front row was a “long time coming.”
The 2009 World Supersport Champion had changed teams and motorcycles for a number of years before sticking with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team for consecutive seasons. That stability, and work put in during the winter, had paid off.
“I feel it was a tough season last season riding the 800s and the new Bridgestone tire was difficult,” he said. “But, no, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team have done a great job over the winter, also working a lot with me, making me learn the GP bike a bit more. 1000cc seems good and it’s enjoyable. So I think we’ve been rewarded for working hard over the off-season and for Qatar, the first race.”
Yamaha’s Ben Spies had a worrisome front-end crash for the second day in a row. This time it wasn’t a cold tire, but he still landed on the ground, after a while. Initially he appeared to get his hand caught in the brake lever, making it seem as if he was hanging on far longer than he was. Once he let go, the bike ghost rode off the track, and Spies’ session was over.
Nicky Hayden was the first of the Ducatis in fifth, while his Ducati Marlboro teammate, Valentino Rossi, was a shocking 12th, 2.179 seconds off the pace, and the last of the 12 prototypes.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso filled out the second row.
Row three was headed by Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa had electrical issues on Friday and today his ‘A’ bike wouldn’t start, twice. That caused him to lose focus and he could do no better than seventh. Next to him are Hector Barbera (Pramac Racing Team Ducati) and Stefan Bradl, the Moto2 World Champion in his MotoGP debut on the LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V.
Colin Edwards was only .831 of a second behind Rossi and the first of the CRT machines on his NGM Mobile Forward Racing BMW-Suter in 13th. The CRT set had a rash of crashes trying in vain to keep up with the prototypes. Edwards wasn’t among them and finished .622 of a second in front of Randy de Puniet (ART), who did crash.
Qatar MotoGP Qualifying Results:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:54.634
2. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:54.855
3. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:55.022
4. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:55.512
5. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:55.637
6. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha) 1:55.858
7. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:55.905
8. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:55.983
9. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 1:56.063
10. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 1:56.198
11. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1:56.521
12. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1:56.813
13. Colin Edwards (BMW-Suter) 1:57.644