SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND, JUNE 16 - San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista earned his first MotoGP pole when a light rain brought a premature end to qualifying for Sunday's British Grand Prix at the Silverstone Circuit. Yamaha's Ben Spies finished a close second, and nearly stole the pole, with Repsol Honda's World Champion Casey Stoner at the far end of the front row.
Spies' teammate Jorge Lorenzo was in control when the Texan uncorked his best effort a little over halfway into the one-hour session, held under cold, gray and threatening skies. Stoner was next to move up the order, jumping from eighth to second with about 22 minutes remaining. Three minutes later, Bautista went to the top with a lap of 2:03.303.
Now there were less than 20 minutes to go and things were getting serious. But with a little less than 10 minutes remaining a light rain began to fall on the pit lane and elsewhere on the track. Then the rain increased and the grid was set.
Bautista's previous best grid MotoGP grid position was third in last year's Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.
"First pole, I miss this kind of thing, because two years and I [wasn't confident] after qualifying or after race," the Spaniard said in halting English. "So I'm so happy for this pole. And not only for the pole, no, because I think we were very consistent all weekend during all practice and I'm so happy with the bike, with the team, because we work a lot to get more feeling on the bike.
"And you know I changed teams from last year and it's really difficult to get the good feeling so early, no? But I'm very confident in this weekend and I want to make tomorrow a good result.
"Today the conditions were a little bit difficult because rain coming and stop. And at the end I can get good rhythm and I just wait for tomorrow's race, see which weather we have and just push the maximum and try to make a good result. I try to stay again here tomorrow."
Spies might have taken his first pole of the year, but had a frightening wobble in Maggotts Corner, early on in a fast mid-lap sequence. Spies had to abandon his lap - he had two red helmets signifying he was above pole pace - and by then the white flag with the diagonal red stripes was being displayed, signaling a wet course. The 2009 World Superbike Champion put his newfound speed on the work done following the recent tests in Spain.
"You know, after Catalunya we've been testing really well and getting more confidence with the bike and it definitely seems to turn our season around," he said. "But we need to get a result tomorrow for sure.
"But I got to just thank the Yamaha guys. They gave me a great bike. It was tricky conditions today. And, yeah, we look forward to tomorrow. We set our time actually on the harder rear tire and when we put the soft on to go for the qualifying lap I was a couple tenths up and I made a mistake; hit a curb and ran off the track. So the bike's working great. It's definitely got some speed in it, but we just need to get off to a good start, stay out of trouble and put together a race."
Stoner had won by a large margin in treacherous conditions last year. He said that qualifying didn't have as much rain, "but they're definitely as treacherous. The wind is causing a lot of havoc and these little showers here and there. And sometimes it only rains on one part of the track, so we're not really getting a good understanding of how hard we can push and where.
"But anyway, we're reasonably happy to be on the front row, but felt we could've been on pole. The beginning of the session we struggled a little bit with our bike set-up. Couldn't really find the right direction. Changed a few things from this morning which felt a little bit worse than what we had and then towards the end of the session we definitely made a big step forward, but we didn't actually complete a full lap with the new set-up, so I thought I'd come straight in get a new rear tire on and have a shot at pole position, but never got to have that shot. And makes me regret not going out for one lap. Even with an old soft I think we could've done quicker than what we did."
Lorenzo heads up an all-Spanish second row ahead of Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Hector Barbera, the Pramac Racing rider again the first Ducati, and the only one not to crash in qualifying.
Ducati Marlboro teammates Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden crashed in the identical spot, on the entrance to the 90 degree Vale left, when their front ends washed out. Rossi, who'd run off the track at Vale in the morning, went down on his seventh lap, about 15 minutes in. Hayden was fifth fastest and ahead of pole pace when he crashed in the same spot. Rossi made it back on track, Hayden didn't. Hayden qualified seventh in front of Rossi, who's in 10th place on row four.
In between the Ducati teammates came Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Andrea Dovizioso, eighth, and LCR Honda MotoGP's Stefan Bradl, ninth. Bradl had a banged up hand from a morning crash, but rode through the pain, though with a larger glove. Dovi was disappointed that rain stopped qualifying early.
"It is a big pity that the rain came at the end of the session because I am confident I could have been much higher up the grid," he said.
Dovi's teammate Cal Crutchlow, the hometown hero who much was expected of this weekend, damaged his ankle in a heavy morning crash and sat out qualifying. If he's given clearance by doctors, he can start his home race tomorrow from the back row.
"I don't have too much to say at the moment," team owner Herve Poncharal said. "He's having a lot of pain on the left ankle."
Poncharal said X-rays at the track were inconclusive, so he was taken to a local hospital for a scan. "We're still waiting for a final assessment of the scan," he said, acknowledging Crutchlow could start on the back row. "At the moment, this is the best case scenario."
British Grand Prix Qualifying Results:
1. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 2:03.303
2. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 2:03.409
3. Casey Stoner (Honda) 2:03.423
4. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 2:03.763
5. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 2:03.835
6. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 2:03.876
7. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 2:04.162
8. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha) 2:04.304
9. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 2:05.035
10. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 2:05.416
15. Colin Edwards (BMW-Suter) 2:07.376