ASSEN, HOLLAND, JUNE 24 - San Carlo Honda Gresini's Marco Simoncelli earned his second pole of the year for Saturday's Dutch TT by narrowly outpacing Yamaha's Ben Spies, who was on the front row for the first time in a difficult season. But those performances are sure to be overlooked because of the downfield performance of a former world champion.Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi qualified 11th fastest on a day when much more was expected. Riding the Ducati Marlboro GP11.1, a Desmosedici GP12 chassis with the modified GP12 engine, Rossi finished an encouraging second in Thursday's lone wet practice session. And he was fifth in the extended 90-minute Friday morning free practice. But in the only session that counts, Rossi spent the hour near the bottom of the field, moving up a few spots to qualify 11th. More tellingly, he was the fourth fastest Ducati.The GP11.1 was supposed to the answer to the team's struggles this season. It had been successfully tested by test rider Franco Battaini at Mugello last week, after which the decision was made for Rossi to race it in Assen. (Teammate Nicky Hayden, ninth fastest today, won't get his GP11.1 until the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.) But it was clear from early on that Rossi couldn't match the pace of the front-runners and qualified 11th one race after qualifying 13th for the previous British Grand Prix at Silverstone.Rossi said the problem was a lack of heat in the rear tire. The cool track temperature prevented him from generating heat and he admitted that the team is still learning how to get the most out of the unconventional Ducati.Simoncelli has been on a tear. The Italian has qualified either first or second at each of the last four races, including his first MotoGP pole two races ago in Catalunya. Today he dominated the one-hour session, only losing the top spot twice to Spies once the riders were up to speed. Both times he rebounded and he set the pole time of 1:34.718 with about 15 minutes to run. Spies came within .009 of a second on the 22nd of 27 laps and was on pace to take his first pole of the season when he had to slow on the section of the track where Pramac Racing Team's Loris Capirossi had crashed. Capirossi suffered a broken rib in the crash and likely won't race on Saturday."Yes, I'm very happy for this pole position, even if I hope to will be happy also tomorrow after the race," Simoncelli began, "because this year every time in the practice I was always so fast, and in the race every time happen something and I can't get the result me and my team deserve." The Italian hasn't been able to translate his qualifying prowess into race results, with a best finish of fifth. "So here I'm confident with the bike."Spies outqualified teammate Jorge Lorenzo for the first time this season. Racing in the white, red, and black throwback colors to commemorate Yamaha's 50th year in the World Championships, Spies was happy to be on the front row after a season of struggle."It's great to be on the front row for Yamaha at this special event, obviously," he said. "It's a good feeling for us. We were good at Silverstone until the race, then that was just bad."But I'm still a little disappointed today. We definitely had a shot at the pole. Hopefully, Loris [Capirossi] is going to be okay, because I saw him...unfortunately, I can't be upset because the rider's health is more important than the pole position, but it was also on my best lap that I was up on my best lap on that one he crashed and I had to slow down through the left-hand corner."But the front row is fine with me for tomorrow. And hope he's okay. And our race pace with the bike seemed really good and I look forward to the race. But just to be back on the front after the season we started out with is definitely a good feeling and hat's off to Marco [Simoncelli]. He's been fast all weekend and we just have to try to be there for the race and see how it goes."The entire Repsol Honda team crashed within the first 10 minutes of the morning free practice, including championship leader Casey Stoner. Stoner didn't have enough heat in the left side of his rear tire when he fell after hitting a wet patch. And the lack of confidence prevented him from pushing for the pole in qualifying. He said the "slip-off very early in the session this morning wasn't the best way to start. We're a bit bruised and sore, but in general we just lack a little bit of confidence on the left hand side of the tire. We just can't seem to get the heat into it and it doesn't really matter what we do with the set-up. We seem to just go around in a circle and not make any improvements.

"So this afternoon we tried a few different things to get our race pace a little better. And we got a bit there, but it's still nowhere near good enough. We'd like to have a little bit more pace for long distance, longevity of the tire. Seem to be using it up a little bit too quickly. And then when I went onto the qualifying tires, soft tires again, for the qualifying lap, I just wasn't willing to push. I just didn't have the confidence in the temperature on the left hand side. And then I came across the line, I got a checkered flag when I was going to start my second fast lap."A little bit disappointing, but I don't think I would've been able to get Marco [Simoncelli] for the pole. The whole weekend he's been very fast, very consistent. My hat's off to him."Lorenzo was fourth after dropping Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso to fifth. It was thought Dovi had suffered broken bone in his foot in his high-side, which was the worst of the three Honda crashes, but in fact he was just battered and bruised.Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow was in for a front row start late in the session before being dropped to sixth, at the end of the second row. Still, it was a strong performance for the Englishman who broke his collarbone and then had surgery nine days ago.Cardion AB Motoracing's Karel Abraham also had a good day, celebrating his one-year contract extension by qualifying seventh. Joining him on the second row are Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden on the second Ducati Marlboro bike.Pramac Racing Team Ducati's Randy de Puniet is 10th, just in front of Rossi.Rossi languished near the bottom of the order for much of the hour before making a run in the final minutes. The nine-time world champion improved his time measurably, but he was only able to move up to 11th.

MotoGP Qualifying:

1. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1:34.718

2. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:34.727

3. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:35.008

4. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:35.143

5. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:35.244

6. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:35.329

7. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 1:35.742

8. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:35.818

9. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:35.866

10. Randy de Puniet (Ducati) 1:36.535

11. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1:36.564

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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.

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