Dani Pedrosa confirmed his dominance at Donington after qualifying on pole for Sunday's race. Pedrosa's name was near the top of the standings for over half of the qualifying session, first behind fellow 250 rookie Casey Stoner, before taking over the lead with 15 minutes to go. With just over a minute to go of qualifying, the diminutive Spaniard then smashed Valentino Rossi's lap record by over 2/10ths of a second.
The session initially looked like being dominated by Casey Stoner, the young Australian putting in a string of fast laps in the first half of the session, with Kenny Roberts Jr being the rider closest to Stoner's times. The timesheets stayed relatively unchanged for a long time, before the first run of faster times with 30 minutes to go. Pedrosa was the only rider to get close, with John Hopkins and Randy de Puniet also putting in fast times.
With 20 minutes of the session to go, the qualifiers started coming out. Chris Vermeulen, Colin Edwards and Randy de Puniet all put in fast times, but none of them could beat Stoner's 1:28.447. This is all the more remarkable as Stoner's fast time was set with race tires, yet the riders with qualifiers couldn't seem to match him. Not until Dani Pedrosa put in a 1:28.152, that is, taking pole from Stoner.
With 10 minutes left in the session, the scramble for a fast lap began in deadly earnest. The psychological warfare between Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who was still smarting from last Saturday's loss at Assen to his fellow American, was on full display, the Yamaha rider following Hayden around the track, and pointedly pulling across in front of him in the pits at one point. Not that it did either of the protagonists any good, both the Yamaha rider and the Honda rider finishing way down in the standings, to start from the fourth row of the grid.
John Hopkins put in a quick time to move up to 4th, but a couple of minutes later, Nicky Hayden raced past to push him down a place. With 5 minutes to go, while Rossi seemed incapable of putting together a really fast lap, with only a 12th time, the other two hospital cases flashed through to put in some top times, Marco Melandri putting in a 2nd fastest time, Loris Capirossi's time taking him to 3rd. But there was still plenty more to come. A minute later, Hopkins flew past to take 3rd again, Shinya Nakano putting in a 5th place time just a minute later. Hopkins' Suzuki team mate Chris Vermeulen outshone the other two Bridgestone riders with a lap of 1:28.158, good enough for second, the spot he will line up at for the race tomorrow. Finally, with just over a minute to go, Dani Pedrosa reaffirmed his right to pole position, smashing the lap record with a time of 1:27.676, an astonishingly fast lap on the Repsol Honda.
So tomorrow, Pedrosa will get to start from pole position for the third time this year. Beside him sits Chris Vermeulen, on the front row of the grid for the 2nd time this year, after his pole in Turkey. Completing the front row is wonder boy Marco Melandri, surprisingly fast for a man who was so badly hurt just two weeks ago. The second row of the grid is headed up by Vermeulen's Suzuki team mate John Hopkins, with another courageous crash victim Loris Capirossi on the Ducati in 5th, and the Kawasaki of Randy de Puniet in 6th. Heading the third row is fellow Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano, reinforcing the strength of the Bridgestone showing here at Donington: 5 of the top 7 riders are on Bridgestones, the only Bridgestone rider missing from the front being Alex Hofmann, who is substituting for Sete Gibernau. Casey Stoner, the rider who led the session on his LCR Honda for so long, drops to a rather disappointing 8th, with Kenny Roberts Jr also likely to be disappointed to only be down in ninth.
The fourth row of the grid sees last week's two protagonists way down the starting order. Colin Edwards won the war of nerves from Nicky Hayden, in what is surely a pyrrhic victory. If Colin wants to get the win he denied himself last week in Holland, 10th spot is not a good place to start from. Valentino Rossi, the man who has won 5 of the last 6 races here, will not be happy in 12th position, but will at least be comforted that the man he has to beat for the title is on the same row of the grid. Rossi is the first rider to be outside of a second of Pedrosa's pole time.
Carlos Checa heads up the fifth row, with a strong 13th place for the Dunlop-shod Yamaha man. Only 1.6 seconds behind the pole sitter, the Dunlops are getting more competitive at every outing. Besides Checa sits Makoto Tamada, in yet another poor showing, the end of his ride on the Konica Minolta rapidly approaching. And Alex Hofmann will have to ride the tires off his temporary Marlboro Ducati from 15th place, if he is to keep the bike for his home Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time. British rider James Ellison will not be happy with his 16th place, though he continues to improve, while Hofmann's substitute Ivan Silva heads up the Pramac d'Antin Ducati tail enders, ahead of team mate Jose Luis Cardoso.
The qualifying session threw up a surprise line up at the front of the grid. Dani Pedrosa definitely deserves his fantastic pole, and has been consistently fast during qualifying, stringing together long runs of fast laps. The only question mark is whether he can cope with 30 long laps of manhandling the bike down through Craner. Both Pedrosa and Stoner, the two lightest riders on the grid, have been fastest through the rear three sections of the track all weekend, but they are both slow through the first part, which needs physical strength to flick the bike from side to side. If Pedrosa can get a good start, he must be capable of getting away and running ahead of the pack. The only rider with the consistently fast lap times to match Pedrosa is Casey Stoner. Stoner will find it harder to fight his way to the front from 8th.
The riders with momentum from Assen, Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, seem to have spent it all in badmouthing each other in the press this week. They will have a tough fight to get to the front to be able to mix it for the win, and are likely to be trying to get in each other's way. This will be very much to the advantage of Valentino Rossi. 12th is a long way down the grid, but at least now, all he has to do is concentrate on staying ahead of Nicky. That's going to be tough, for the last section of track, through the Esses, up the Melbourne Loop and back down round Goddards, is all hard braking, which is tough on a broken wrist. This is going to be equally hard on Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri. Melandri has the advantage of starting from the front row, but is worried about his collarbone and hand holding up over the full length of the race.
With all those Bridgestone riders out front, it could be another surprising podium. Hopkins knows and loves this track, living just a few minutes away from it, and is desperate to get on the box. Vermeulen put in an outstanding lap at the track he last rode at in 2001, on a 600 Supersport, which must feel like a sensible commuter compared to the fire-breathing MotoGP bikes. And the Kawasakis look good, despite the last part of the circuit suiting the bike less well. It's going to be a great race.