Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) will start Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix from the front row after a dramatic last minute surge on a day of changing weather conditions at the scenic Phillip Island circuit south of Melbourne.
The session was an eventful one for the Spaniard. Just after setting the third fastest time, near the halfway point of the hour-long qualifying session, Pedrosa crashed suddenly while braking for turn two. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but his Honda RC212V was and he was forced onto his backup bike.
While getting up to speed on the ‘B’ bike, he was displaced from the front row until the very end of the session. Then, in the final 20 secs. he found a burst of speed to edge out fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) by the slimmest of margins, .001s.
That put him on the front row next to fast qualifier Casey Stoner (Ducati) and second fastest Valentino Rossi (Yamaha). Stoner and Pedrosa are locked in a battle for third in the championship and, heading into Sunday’s race, are separated by only eight points with three rounds to go.
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) also crashed, and was forced onto his backup machine. The San Marinese didn’t have the same feeling from his ‘B’ bike and missed out on a front row start by .190 secs. Still, he qualified sixth fastest. And if there was a bright spot, it was that the team would be able to take the best from both machines to build the most competitive machine for Sunday’s 15th round of the World Championship.
Randy De Puniet (LCR Honda) was happy to be in the middle of the third row after his own fall, his coming in the morning free practice. When he returned to the pits for his backup bike, it began to rain, but only briefly. In qualifying, the team used the data from the morning to resolve a rear grip issue and, lap by lap, he was able to increase his pace. Now the team has to decide which of the two asymmetrical rear Bridgestones to use for Sunday’s race, scheduled for 4:00 p.m. local time.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) qualified tenth fastest, which was better than it sounds. In the final quarter of the session, the team made significant progress, which will be confirmed during Sunday’s morning warm-up. Of the two tire choices he opted for the soft one, though a rising temperature could force him onto the harder option, as most believe the soft tire won’t be as competitive over race distance. Despite being on row four, Dovizioso is only .4s from the fourth fastest rider.
One spot behind Dovizioso comes Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini). The Spaniard improved in both the morning and afternoon sessions, while searching for traction on a track where this weekend it’s proved elusive. The combination of a recent car race, heavy rains, and cool temperatures made qualifying difficult and not an accurate indicator of race conditions. The hope is for warm weather on Sunday, so Elias can use proven settings in the race.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) found Phillip Island to be the most difficult track in his rookie MotoGP season, and it’s easy to see why. The track is challenging enough in the best of conditions, and also the fastest of the year. Throw in the unpredictable weather and changing track surface and it’s easy to understand Talmacsi’s position. Undaunted, he qualified 16th and less than two seconds off pole, one of his strongest qualifying performances to date.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: 3rd, 1m 31.070s. “I’m pleased to be on the front row because it’s always good to have a clear track ahead of you at the start of the race – and especially since it came after I had quite a big crash in qualifying. It was at high speed on the way into Turn Two so it’s a relief that I wasn’t injured and I was able go straight back out on track for the second half of the session. I’m not sure yet why I fell – I just touched the brake and boom – I was down. We’ll take a look at the data and try to find out exactly what happened. For tomorrow we’ll work on finding a little something in terms of pace to allow us to compete for the win because the riders in front are going quickly. It will be a long race tomorrow so we’ll need to be fully concentrated – and of course it will be important to see what the weather does.”
Alex De Angelis, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 6th, 1m, 31.260s. “It was a real shame about the crash because I had a good feeling from the start of the session and that was the bike that had the better setting on, in terms of working with the hard race tyre, and it would have been good to get some more laps on it. Having said that there were some things about the setting on the other bike that I liked and I was able to push it and set a few laps in the 1’31.2, 1’31.3 mark. The good thing is that we have found good things from both settings – now we have to work how best to combine them together! Either way I’m pleased with our performance today and confident about the race tomorrow.”
Randy De Puniet, LCR Honda: 8th, 1m, 31.380s. “We are finally back where we should be. After yesterday’s rear grip issues we had to focus on the bike set up testing different settings in order to reduce the problem. In this morning free session I crashed in turn one because I lost the rear and once I came in to jump onto bike number two it started to rain heavily. Then in the qualifying session I felt immediately comfortable on the bike and was able to get more speed improving my pace lap by lap. All the adjustments we made yesterday are working pretty well; I still have to do my tyre choice for the race but we will focus on that in tomorrow’s warm up”.
Andrea Dovizioso, Repsol Honda: 10th, 1m, 31.472s. “We made progress today and, in spite of the grid position, we actually improved our situation a little here. During the first three quarters of the qualifying session we tried some different set-up solutions that didn’t really give any improvements. We were also using the hard option tyres that were proving too hard for the conditions so, when we switched to the soft tyres, we improved our rhythm and the lap times came down. I’m a little disappointed because we upped our pace, but not by enough and this means the grid position is not the best. On the plus side, we are only four tenths behind the third fastest time which is actually encouraging, though the grid slot is a pity because starting from the fourth row makes everything more difficult. Anyway tomorrow I will give 100 per cent to make a good start and recover as many positions as possible.”
Toni Elias, San Carlo Honda Gresini: 11th, 1m, 31.640s. “We improved this morning and again in the afternoon but not enough for my liking at all. I’m really not sure how much more we can improve things tomorrow or what our expectations can be for the race so the target just has to be to get as good a start as possible and see who we can follow. It is a matter of finding some more traction and I suppose the thing that would really help us is if we get more sunshine tomorrow. Hopefully we get a little bit of help from the weather but the late race start time doesn’t make me too optimistic!”
Gabor Talmacsi, Scot Honda: 16th, 1m 32.752s. “This is the most difficult track since I’ve been competing in MotoGP. Nevertheless, the gap from the front is smaller, and for the first time I’ve been stronger at the end of the session, while previously I used to get my fastest lap at the very beginning of it. So, even if I cannot say that I’m quite happy, I feel we’ve taken the right direction. We have a better understanding. For the race, I hope we can improve the traction. In Malaysia, Australia and at Valencia I hope to be able to show my skills”.