The Eurosport commentators Toby Moody and Julian Ryder mentioned it during the broadcast of the race, and now several other sources are confirming it. HRC will be wheeling out its pneumatic valve engine earlier than expected. After Honda decided not to bring the engine to Le Mans for the tests which are currently under way, it seemed the first place the air valve engine could make an appearance might be the test after the Catalunya round of MotoGP in Barcelona.
Now, though, Honda has changed its mind. HRC's test rider Tady Okada has been entered as a wildcard ride for the race at Mugello on June 1st, and he will be riding the new version of the RC212V complete with pneumatic valve engine. Both Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden have commented that the throttle response of the new engine is too nervous, and there have been persistent rumors about reliability. With the memories of what happened to Valentino Rossi when Yamaha debuted their pneumatic valve engine in race conditions still fresh in their minds, neither the Repsol Honda team, nor their two riders want to risk a DNF due to a failed engine, Pedrosa having told the press on numerous occasions that he "won't race the bike until it's ready". Enter Okada as a wildcard is an ideal way of testing the engine under race conditions, something which is almost impossible to achieve on a test track.
The decision also makes sense in terms of the calendar. Mugello has a long, fast front straight, which should demonstrate the air valve (or "wind-driven" as one wag labeled it) engine's top speed potential, and a successful test would prove its reliability. This in turn could leave the option open for Pedrosa and Hayden to use the new engine at Barcelona, which also has a very long front straight, and is a track at which fuel consumption can be an issue. Two races after Barcelona, MotoGP visits Assen for the Dutch TT, another track which sees high speeds and high fuel consumption. Running a race at Mugello is a good way to find out just how ready the engine really is.
|9||Alex de Angelis||Honda||1'34.926|
Times courtesy of GPOne.com
The second day of MotoGP practice at Le Mans had started in spectacular fashion. At the start of the morning FP3 session, Jorge Lorenzo had a nasty crash, ending up tumbling through the gravel trap at the end of the straight for the Chemin aux Boeufs chicane. A visit to the Clinica Mobile revealed that Lorenzo had been incredibly lucky: the Spanish champion, riding with two fractured ankles and fractured bones in his feet, had not injured himself any further.
The morning's session was dominated by Colin Edwards, the Tech 3 Yamaha man managing a frighteningly consistent run of laps in the 1'33 bracket, several tenths faster than Valentino Rossi, who ended the session 2nd fastest. But morning practice is one thing: the question was, could Edwards maintain his pace in the afternoon?
Once Qualifying Practice got underway, under mixed skies and a threat of rain, Edwards answered that question in the affirmative. The Texan was not the quickest rider out of the gate, but from the start, Edwards was near the top of the timesheets.
The man at the very top of the timesheets was Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda RC212V. Pedrosa had been quickest on day 1, and was clearly out to consolidate his lead in the championship. A pole at Le Mans would give the Spaniard a good chance of getting away from the start, and getting his second win. Pedrosa led throughout the first half of the session, with Colin Edwards, Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and a surprising Chris Vermeulen close to the Spaniard's pace, but not close enough. With just under half the session gone, Pedrosa was the first rider to crank out a lap of 1'33 during QP, and only the second man to do it all weekend.
With dark clouds bearing curtains of rain rapidly approaching, the qualifying tires came out early. Randy de Puniet was, as always, the first man to run a set of qualifiers, but others were very quick to follow. The Frenchman had already been setting quick laps, but soft rubber did little to improve his grid position.
Just before the halfway mark, as we started to settle in for the battle royal for pole, our concentration was broken by another incident for Jorge Lorenzo. The Spanish Yamaha man ran wide at turn 1, taking a fast and bumpy ride through the gravel before leaping his bike back onto and over the track through the chicane. Lorenzo was lucky: losing his footing on the pegs, his legs dangled loose, but he kept the bike upright. But his mistake did not go unpunished, as he rejoined the track, with no support from his legs to soak up the bumps, he had to absorb the shock with a much more delicate part of the male anatomy.
As we entered the second half of qualifying, Chris Vermeulen was the next man out on soft rubber. Impressive on race tires, he put his first qualifier to good use, taking provisional pole with a lap of 1'33.859. But with Colin Edwards already having set a lap of 1'33.765 on race tires, Vermeulen's time was never going to last for long.
Vermeulen's time looked like going almost immediately, with Casey Stoner on a fast lap, but the reigning champion ran wide at the newly altered Garage Vert corner, and ruined his lap. The alterations were minor, and had shortened the track by only a handful of meters, but the bumps which had appeared had been catching riders out all weekend, so Stoner was in good company.
Eventually, it was Dani Pedrosa who beat Vermeulen's time, but by the 2nd smallest margin conceivable, just 0.002 seconds. But 30 seconds after Pedrosa beat the Suzuki man's time, Valentino Rossi went quicker too, taking nearly a tenth of a second off. With the skies looking ever more threatening, activity in pit lane had swelled to a crescendo. Just 20 seconds after Rossi had snatched pole from Pedrosa, Colin Edwards was on a fast lap. And now, his time was a serious contender for pole. By the time he crossed the line, the Texan had taken nearly 3/4s of a second off Rossi's lap, hammering his Tech 3 Yamaha round the track to a lap of 1'33.065, and unlucky not to crack into the 1'32s.
As the clock ticked down, no one could get close to Edwards' time, though competition was fierce. Chris Vermeulen improved his time again to take 2nd spot, only to be pushed down the order by Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi, before reclaiming 2nd a few moments later. It seemed the only man capable of beating Colin Edwards' time was Edwards himself, as with 11 minutes to go, the American took another 0.3 seconds off his own time, and cracked into the 1'32 bracket.
The minutes ticked away, and Edwards looked ever more sure of securing his second pole position in a row. But he reckoned without Dani Pedrosa. In the final minute of the session, the Spaniard found the speed he needed, and finally snatched back the pole from Edwards, with a remarkable time of 1'32.647. Edwards came close to getting pole back, but on his final lap, came across Marco Melandri on the racing line, and lost out in the last section.
So Yamaha's run of poles is at an end, and Dani Pedrosa is sitting pretty in pole position for the race on Sunday. Besides him sits Colin Edwards, who was running very promising times on race tires, and is sure to be competitive. Casey Stoner rounds out the front row, the reigning champion pleased with his progress. He told reporters afterwards that they'd found a solution to some of the problems they'd been having with the Ducati, and his last couple of laps on race tires were much more competitive, in the low 1'34s.
Valentino Rossi starts from the head of the 2nd row, ahead of Fiat Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi's form is good, but Lorenzo has made several mistakes this weekend, crashing and running off the track. It seems that Lorenzo is lacking just a fraction in concentration, which makes a podium look out of the question. Nicky Hayden rounds out the 2nd row, but his 6th place on qualifiers bears no relation to his times on race rubber, only able to run around in 12th place. He could be in for a long day tomorrow.
Another strong performance by James Toseland sees him start from 7th position, very good at a track he hasn't visited yet. Besides Toseland sits Chris Vermeulen, whose times on race tires were significantly better than his times on race rubber, while John Hopkins had a decent qualifying, lining up in 9th. Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the top 10.
Saturday's qualifying may prove not to have too much bearing on the race, if the weather forecasters are right. Sunday looks like being very wet and rainy, which would make Chris Vermeulen a strong candidate to win. But the race looks like being among the top 3 title contenders, with Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi all fast, though not perhaps as fast as Colin Edwards. Whether Edwards can maintain his pace under race conditions remains to be seen, but he has proved that he is fast round this French track. A win at Le Mans for the French-based Tech 3 Yamaha team would be very welcome indeed.
The first day of free practice took place under cool, overcast but mostly dry conditions, with rain spotting the track only during the final moments of FP2. During both sessions it was Dani Pedrosa who was setting up his stall as the man to beat. Pedrosa was there or thereabouts almost from the moment they rolled onto the track, and it's clear that he means business.
Pedrosa's lap times have been almost Stoner-esque, but that would be the Stoner of 2007, not 2008. The Australian champ had a mixed day today, running a way off the top in the morning, but finding some speed in the latter part of the afternoon. Stoner was losing most of his time in the second half of the track, losing any advantage he could gain in the first part of the circuit, but in the last 20 minutes of FP2, he came up with a solution, ending the session in 2nd spot, just a few hundredths behind Pedrosa.
Valentino Rossi's story was rather the reverse of Stoner's: Rossi was quicker in the morning, but could not quite match his time in the afternoon, as some experimentation with settings and tires on his Yamaha left The Doctor off the pace. His team mate Jorge Lorenzo fared better, being fast in both sessions. Unfortunately, Lorenzo had a crash in the dying moments of FP2, running into the gravel at the chicane. The way he hobbled around at the side of the track showed that although he was still in obvious pain from the injuries he sustained in China, the crash did not appear to have made them much worse. Lorenzo is looking pretty formidable.
Colin Edwards was a bit of a surprise, taking the 3rd fastest time of the day, and showing a good turn of speed. The Texan took pole here last year, and if it stays dry, he could repeat that feat on Saturday. The other surprises were the Suzukis, with both Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi much closer to the sharp end than they have been in previous practice sessions. Vermeulen is looking particularly strong, and could be up the front come rain or shine on Sunday.
After a revival at Shanghai, both Alice Ducatis are firmly ensconced at the back of the field in France. Elias looks nonplussed, and Guintoli looks saddened. They had hoped for more, but they don't look like getting it. Marco Melandri, the final Ducati rider, is a bit of an enigma. This morning he was skulking at the back of the field, while this afternoon, the Italian found a spot of pace, taking him up to 14th. It's not much, but it's not last place either.
The other big disappointment is Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid is languishing in the bottom 3rd of the table, while his team mate sits at the top of the timesheets. Hayden must be frustrated, and possibly unnerved as a result of all the talk about Andrea Dovizioso getting the factory Honda ride next year which would be Hayden's seat. Hayden is possibly also disappointed about the failure of the pneumatic valve engine to make an appearance at Le Mans. The Repsol Honda team was due to test the new unit on the Monday after the race, but HRC has held the engine back again, without stating a reason. With Pedrosa leading the championship, and with a win already under his belt, Honda is probably playing it safe. The next opportunity the air valve engine could make an appearance will be the tests after the Barcelona Grand Prix in three weeks time. But after so many delays, MotoGP followers are taking any dates given by Honda with a few pounds of salt.
The weather in France is looking decidedly British - a comparison I hope both my British and French readers will forgive me for - and the chances of rain are high. Qualifying practice looks likely to be held in showery conditions, and the chances of rain are 80-90% for race day. The search for evidence of rites being performed for the rain gods inside Chris Vermeulen's and Ant West's trailers has yet to turn up any conclusive evidence, but the suspicion lingers.
Almost since the birth of the Motorcycle Grand Prix championship back in 1949, the 250cc class has operated as the feeder class for the MotoGP championship, especially once the 350cc class was scrapped in 1983. Just about all of the great names of motorcycle racing have come up through the class, from John Surtees, to Mike Hailwood, and from Giacomo Agostini to Valentino Rossi, and far, far too many names to mention in between. This year's crop of rookies coming from 250s underline the quality of riders coming up from the smaller bikes.
But the class has a problem: based on 250cc two-stroke twins, an engine size and format which has fallen out of favor with the motorcycling public, there are few manufacturers interested in building machinery for the series. As a result, the current 250 field consists almost entirely of bikes from just two factories: Aprilia and KTM, with a token presence from Honda, and even a stray Yamaha. And so pressure has been growing to change the format of the class, to make the bikes being raced more relevant to motorcycling's biggest markets.
A veritable forest fire of speculation has raged around what will replace the class, with much infighting in the MSMA, the organization of motorcycle manufacturers, as to the technical regulations to replace the 250s. That two-strokes will be replaced by four-strokes is a given, but the question remains as to what kind of four-strokes. Initial rumors suggested that a 450 twin would be the new engine format, but as the behind-the-scenes discussions went on, some form of 600cc engine with severe technical restrictions became the front runner.
That speculation can now be laid to rest. According to Motorcycle News, Carmelo Ezpeleta of Dorna will present the proposed new regulations on Saturday, at the French Grand Prix. The 600cc format seems to be the favored format, but the exact details will have to wait until Saturday afternoon. Ezpeleta will make his proposal to the Grand Prix Commission, consisting of Dorna (as the organizers of the series), the FIM (as the sanctioning body), the IRTA, representing the teams, and the MSMA representing the manufacturers.
The proposals can still be vetoed by the MSMA, but that would require a unanimous vote by all of the manufacturers. With Aprilia and KTM against the idea, but most of the Japanese factories in favor, it seems certain that the rules will be adopted.
Internal acceptance is one thing, however. If Dorna does switch to 600cc bikes, they could run into problems with FGSport, the body which organizes the World Superbike series. FGSport is believed to have agreements in place with the FIM which provide a monopoly on production-based motorcycle racing, and any switch to 600cc by MotoGP could cause potential problems, as 600cc is perhaps the most popular size for road-going sportsbikes. If Dorna is to avoid problems, they will have to find a way around that particular minefield. Whether they have succeeded will be made clear at 12:15pm on Saturday afternoon, at Le Mans in France.
Although his participation was never in doubt, Ben Spies wildcard rides at the US rounds of MotoGP have now finally been officially confirmed, according to MCN. Deals in MotoGP are never done until the ink has dried on the paper - and even then, deals can suddenly disappear into thin air - so Spies will be feeling some relief.
The reigning AMA Superbike champion will appear at the MotoGP tire test at Indianapolis in early July, before competing in both the USGP at Laguna Seca and the Indy GP at the legendary Brick Yard in Indianapolis.
Spies participation is a clear indication of his intent to make the leap into the MotoGP series in 2009. The Texan is expected to be aboard a Suzuki GSV-R next year, but with the Hamamatsu factory's plans for a third bike in '09 still uncertain, and both Vermeulen and Capirossi likely to remain with the factory Rizla Suzuki team, Spies' performance in the US rounds could turn out to be more of an audition than he planned. Spies has been with Suzuki since the beginning of his career, but he has also hinted that his ambition to enter MotoGP outstrips his loyalty to Suzuki, as becomes a great racer.
If a third Suzuki doesn't materialize for Ben Spies, finding an empty seat could turn out to be tricky. With three Americans already in the series, none of whom are likely to leave - at least now that Colin Edwards has indicated he would like to stay on for at least another year - sponsors are more likely to be open to Spanish and Italian riders, who are good for marketing to the major MotoGP audiences in the key Southern European markets. But Spies is very highly regarded in the MotoGP paddock, and a strong wildcard performance could easily open doors which are currently closed.
Since Estoril, a number of announcements have come out of the Yamaha camp concerning the 2009 series and beyond. These developments have already been reported elsewhere, but are worth recapping here.
The first news emerged at the Estoril round, where the Tech 3 Yamaha announced contract extensions with both Yamaha and James Toseland. The success of Tech 3's riders, with several front row appearances, now including a pole position at Shanghai for Colin Edwards, has boosted the status of the French privateer firm in the paddock. Now, Yamaha have rewarded that performance with a contract extension of two years, meaning that Tech 3 will be guaranteed Yamaha M1s in 2009 and 2010.
At the same time, Tech 3 also announced that James Toseland had decided to exercise an option to stay with the team for 2009. The reigning World Superbike champion has made a real impact since moving into the series, and the support provided by Yamaha has vindicated Toseland's decision to jump ship from Honda. Toseland and Edwards are on virtually identical equipment to the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Toseland's 6th place in the championship has been good for all parties concerned. With this season and next settled, JT can focus on learning the tracks which are new to him and consolidating his position in the title race.
Signing a contract this early will once again allow team boss Hervé Poncharal to go out and chase sponsorship money, with something substantial to present to sponsors: Long term support from Yamaha, and at least one rider capable of running at the front of the field. And sponsorship is something the team is very much in need of. The team is currently without a title sponsors, but it does not seem particularly hard-pressed for cash. It is obvious from statements by Lin Jarvis of Yamaha that the factory is doing more than just making bikes available to lease, and that Yamaha's support may take very tangible forms. Neither is the fact that Tech 3 is running a paint scheme using what is quite clearly Michelin's corporate color scheme a particularly effective way of hiding the French tire maker's support.
And prior to the Shanghai MotoGP round, Colin Edwards suggested that he might stay in MotoGP for another year or two once his contract is up at the end of the season, implying that he would like to stay with the Tech 3 team. Given Edwards' strong ties to both Yamaha and Michelin (Yamaha is said to be paying Edwards' salary this year), built up as a result of his prowess as a development rider for both the bike and the tires, a contract extension for Edwards also seems highly likely.
Edwards was initially believed to be considering returning to the US next year, to contest the AMA Superbike championship, a move which would allow him to spend more time with his family, especially as his children are approaching school age. But it is not inconceivable that the shakeup in the AMA since the race series was sold to DMG, with announcements that the conventional Superbike class would disappear, to be replaced with something resembling the current Formula Xtreme series, may have made Edwards reconsider his plans.
The other Yamaha rider whose contract ends this year is Valentino Rossi. At the end of last season, disillusioned with the performance of the Yamaha, Rossi had threatened to leave the series altogether. But now that he has a competitive bike again, and a tire package that he believes he can be competitive on, Rossi has rediscovered his joy in racing. And so over the past few days, The Doctor has been dropping hints that he could be ready to renew his contract with Yamaha again, and that once again, he felt confident that he would eventually end his career with the firm. And this time, he didn't mean at the end of the current season.
So, with Jorge Lorenzo already tied to a multi-year deal with Yamaha, things are looking rosy for the Japanese factory. With Yamahas currently lying 2nd, 3rd and 6th in the title race, and two strong contenders for the title, the factory could be in for a very good season in 2008.
British rider and double World Superbike rider James Toseland has made a big impression since entering MotoGP. Toseland's 6th place in the MotoGP championship, tied for points with Loris Capirossi, achieved mostly at tracks he'd either never visited or never raced at before, has been a boost in the arm for a number of Superbike riders with aspirations of moving up to MotoGP, as it has disproved the idea that Superbike racing is not a viable route into the MotoGP series.
With Toseland's success comes increased public interest, which is good for both Toseland and for the sport. A reader was kind enough to point out that James Toseland was interviewed by BBC Radio's Simon Mayo, and that the interview was available as an MP3 download.
The interview has some interesting moments, although being aimed at a general audience, it does not contain anything that is likely to surprise hardcore MotoGP fans. But it was interesting to hear Toseland's perspective on the next few races, all at tracks that JT has not raced at, and at his approach to racing, and his lack of fear of crashing. A useful way of spending 19 minutes.
Thanks to Spudracer for pointing the podcast out to us.
That is the question which has been echoing around the MotoGP paddock since the start of the season. At Shanghai, the clamor grew to almost deafening levels, after rumors that HRC would ship new versions of the RC212V with pneumatic valves to the Chinese race track, where speed is at an absolute premium. Despite the speculation, the new engine failed to make an appearance, and the chorus of questions grew even louder: Where is Honda's new engine with the pneumatic valves, and when will it turn up.
The Italian site MotoGrandPrix.it has a possible answer: the engine is Japan being tested, and will probably be ready for Mugello. According to the Italian news hounds, Honda's veteran test rider and former GP star Tady Okada is spending 3 to 4 days a week testing the bike at Motegi and Suzuka, under the watchful eye of HRC R&D and racing department engineers. The tests show that the reliability of the engine is "good", but whether "good" is good enough remains to be seen. It has long been Honda policy to only provide new bikes to its factory riders once HRC feels the bikes are ready to race, which would imply that the pneumatic valve version of the RC212V has not quite reached that point yet.
The most likely schedule for the air valve engine will be for Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden to test the bike after the French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 18th. If the engine is reliable, and it meets with the approval of the factory Repsol Honda riders, then it could be used in anger for the first time at Mugello in Italy, two weeks later. Added horsepower is a real benefit at the Italian track, with a very fast front straight, and a number of shorter straights round the track.
But even if they don't get the new bike, Dani Pedrosa's outstanding ride in China on Sunday proved that the steel spring engine still has plenty of beans. For 17 laps, Pedrosa had few problems keeping up with Valentino Rossi's prodigiously fast Yamaha M1, and beat Casey Stoner's Ducati, still the fastest bike on the grid by some distance, by a margin of 12 seconds.
Two things were on everyone's mind during qualifying practice at Shanghai on Saturday afternoon. The first was the weather, the sun making conditions hot and sticky for qualifying, while torrential rain is forecast for the race on Sunday. This left the paddock in a quandary as to how to treat the session, whether to look for a dry race setup which may turn out to be irrelevant, or focus on qualifying as close to the front as possible, and hope it rains. In the end, most teams found a compromise, and split the session half and half.
The bigger question, however, was whether Jorge Lorenzo could ride with the fractured ankles he suffered after crashing yesterday, and if he did, whether he would be able to keep his perfect streak of poles alive. Lorenzo answered part of that question in the morning's free practice session, riding 21 laps in 3 sessions, to see whether he was physically capable of riding. Though his times were nothing to write home about, the Spanish rookie showed he was made of stern stuff, riding in obvious pain, but still setting consistent laps.
As the riders headed out onto the track for the first time, Andrea Dovizioso slid out at the end of the everlasting Turn 1, losing the rear before his tires were thoroughly warmed. It was to be the first fall of many in what turned out to be a crash-strewn and incident-packed qualifying session.
Less than 10 minutes into the session, Casey Stoner had taken command, with a 2'00.577, but his lead would be relatively short-lived. A few minutes later, Stoner saw his lead taken from him by a strong Dani Pedrosa, first by a couple of tenths, then on the next lap by more, Pedrosa managing a 2'00.163. But a time over 2'00 was never going to be good enough, and 3 minutes later, Valentino Rossi became the first man to crack the 2'00 barrier, setting a time of 1'59.876.
While the action at the front held plenty of interest, further down the field, a remarkable revival was occurring. Speculation had been running riot about Marco Melandri's future prior to the China round, and after he finished FP1 nearly 5 seconds off the pace, his fate seemed sealed. But 15 minutes into qualifying, Melandri had found something, as he was already faster than he had been all weekend. And 10 minutes later, the Italian was up to 4th place, and running laps consistently over 3/4 of a second faster than his previous best. This was more like the Melandri of old.
By the halfway point, we were waiting for the first of the qualifiers to appear, and this time, it was John Hopkins who took the first shot. Though Hopper had been running well on race tires, he wasn't there on qualifying tires, falling short of provisional pole, and unable to match Pedrosa's time of 1'59.693 set on race rubber. But now, there were plenty of riders following Hopkins' lead, and first Nicky Hayden, and then Loris Capirossi took pole, the Italian pushing his Suzuki to a lap of 1'59.506, just 0.001 seconds faster than the Repsol Honda man.
A few minutes later, Dani Pedrosa, out on a very fast lap, put on the first demonstration of both the dangers and the outstanding grip provided by qualifying tires. As he rounded Turn 10, Pedrosa's tire slid, then gripped just a little too much, almost throwing the Spaniard clear of his Honda, the bike bucking and weaving underneath him, the phenomenal grip of the tires. A few minutes later, Pedrosa's spectacular save was outdone in every respect by his bitter rival Jorge Lorenzo. As Lorenzo rounded the final turn onto the finish straight, the Spaniard found the rear coming round on him, his bike then gripping and shaking, bucking like an enraged bull, getting crossed right up, and tossing Lorenzo at least a foot out of the saddle, before the tires regained grip and the bike recovered its composure. Landing partly on his fracture ankle, and partly on his groin, the young rookie took a moment to get his breath back, and wipe the tears from his eyes, before carrying on his lap. A lesser, or perhaps more sensible, man might have decided that enough was enough, and pulled in, but Lorenzo rode out the rest of the session, even running wide and through the gravel at one point, forced to dab his other painful ankle to keep his balance. Lorenzo is made of very tough material indeed.
With 15 minutes to go, Casey Stoner decided it was time to make his mark, taking pole with a 1'58.860, the first man into the 1'58s. He was joined a few minutes later by Colin Edwards, taking the 2nd fastest time. But Stoner knew he was still nearly half a second off Valentino Rossi's pole record, and would have to do better to retain the pole. On his next flying lap, the Australian world champion pushed his Ducati to a 1'58.591, and a time much harder to beat.
Not impossible, though, as with 5 minutes left in the session, Valentino Rossi crossed the line in a time of 1'58.552 to take back pole, just 1/10th slower than his pole time of last year, and looking good enough to take his first pole of the year. But Rossi had reckoned without Colin Edwards. The Texas Tornado was living up to his nickname, and was flying round the track on his Michelin qualifying tires. In the dying seconds of the session, Edwards flashed across the line in an astonishing time of 1'58.139, nearly 3/10ths faster than the previous record, to take his first pole for nearly a year.
Valentino Rossi was left with 2nd spot on the grid, but the way that he leapt on the back of Colin Edwards' Yamaha M1 when the Texan entered Parc Fermé suggested that Rossi wasn't too unhappy. The Doctor is back where he feels he belongs, and the Bridgestone qualifying tires are getting closer to the Michelins. Casey Stoner took the last place on the grid, but like Rossi, was not too unhappy, after the disastrous outings the Australian had had at Estoril and Jerez.
Jorge Lorenzo took an awe-inspiring 4th place, riding in obvious pain, and unable to get off his bike when he rolled into the garage. There can be no doubt he will ride tomorrow, but you have to doubt the wisdom of that decision, as Lorenzo made several mistakes due to the pain he was in during the session. Those kind of mistakes could be very costly during the race, and could even endanger the other riders.
Dani Pedrosa finished 5th on the grid, disappointed, but with good race pace, ahead of a strong Loris Capirossi on the Suzuki. James Toseland will head up the third row of the grid, starting from 7th, after another display of how quickly he can learn a track. Toseland improved by 0.7 of a second in each of the free practice sessions, ending up just over a second off his Tech 3 Yamaha team mate's astonishing pole time. Chris Vermeulen took 8th place, not far off the pace of his team mate. Randy de Puniet rounds out the third row of the grid, ahead of Nicky Hayden in 10th. Hayden had the misfortune to crash on a fast lap with 15 minutes to go, and the poor judgment to crash at Turn 13, about as far from the paddock as you can possibly get. By the time he was back in the pits, it was too late to put in a competitive lap.
On race rubber, the picture is much the same, with Valentino Rossi clearly fastest, and capable of running a consist pace, with only Pedrosa and, to a lesser extent, Stoner capable of keeping up. Behind Stoner, there are a host of riders capable of regular 2'00 laps, including Chris Vermeulen, Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden. Jorge Lorenzo is also one of those riders, but the question remains whether he can keep up that pace for a full 21 laps with two cracked ankles.
But this may all be meaningless if the rain comes. The last time Colin Edwards took pole position, at Le Mans in 2007, it had rained the next day, and Edwards' hopeful start had resulted only in a 12th place, the last of the riders to finish. Edwards must hope for predictable conditions, to avoid the tire problems which wrecked his race in France. But if it does rain, then there will be a couple of men wringing their hands in glee. Chris Vermeulen has already won one wet race, that rain-soaked GP in France, and is a renowned rain rider. But a downpour could well be the saving of Ant West's career. It is widely rumored that this could be the Australian's last race for Kawasaki, and he is to be sacked after the race is over. If it rains, and West wins, it will be much harder for the team to give him his marching orders. That does rely on West winning, of course, but if there's one man who can dominate in the rain, it is Ant West. Tomorrow should make for an interesting race indeed.