After dominating all three practice sessions at Losail International Circuit, Qatar, Casey Stoner had no problem securing the pole position Saturday for the opening round of the 2011 MotoGP Championship.
Joining Stoner on the front row will be his teammate Dani Pedrosa and the reigning MotoGP Champion, Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha Factory Racing M1.
Taking the lead on the second row is sophomore MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli on the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V. He will be joined by Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies and the top Ducati rider, Hector Barbera on the Maphre Aspar GP11.
Here’s what the riders were saying after Saturday’s qualifying session at Qatar.
Valentino Rossi (Ducati Marlboro Team GP11) says: "I think that without my shoulder problem, which is causing us to lose five or six tenths, we could have been on the second row today, because we were able to improve the setup by making changes that will also be important in the foreseeable future. Today I was able to ride the GP11 better, but by the time we used the soft tyre at the end of the session, my strength was gone.
"When I tried to do my lap time, there were some parts of the track where I just couldn’t push. Anyway, we got an okay time and we still have some things we can try in the warm-up. As for the race I think that as long as my shoulder lasts, we’ll be able to have a pace that’s relatively competitive, apart from the two Hondas.
"We’ll see how it goes from a physical point of view in the second half of the race, after eleven or twelve laps in a row riding on the limit."
Nicky Hayden (Ducati Marlboro Team GP11) says: "It was pretty much the same way that it has been all weekend. I just clearly wasn’t fast enough. We tried something toward the start of the session that was very similar to last year’s setup, but it didn’t work.
"I got back on my other bike and had one decent lap going, but I made a mistake in the last corner. Most of the weekend I’ve been able to go just as fast on used hard tires, but that wasn’t the case tonight, even though the temperature is warmer. I thought my best lap might get me out of trouble a little bit, because it was the first time since we got rid of qualifying tyres that I got into the 55s around here, but it wasn’t nearly good enough this year.
"We’ve known since the tests in Malaysia that everybody has made a big step. It’s been a frustrating weekend, and it won’t be easy tomorrow starting from way back, but we’re not ready to go home yet."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "The weekend has been very good for us so far, I’ve been running at the top in every session and I’m very happy to be on the front row in Losail for the first time; this is a big improvement for me.
"Nevertheless, we have to focus on the race, Casey is running very fast, also Lorenzo is improving very quickly, so we have to focus making no mistakes tomorrow. I don’t know yet if the race will be a fight between Casey and myself. We’ve never run at 10:00 pm, so I hope the bike works well after 125 cc and Moto2 races.
"I want to prepare as best as possible for tomorrow and be ready to be consistent for 22 laps. The race will be fast, I guess, so we will need to maintain a high pace. I hope I will be able to do it and fight for the victory."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "I’m disappointed with the third row, I need to improve the use of the soft tire for a better qualifying. The positive point is that we have a good pace to fight for a podium spot, this is our target tomorrow.
"We will work during the warm up to improve the set up to get more stability at the beginning of the braking and I hope to gain more confidence and find a good stability in the front. For the race it will be very important to have a good start and arrive at turn 1 close to the first riders. It is impossible to catch Casey, I will try to maintain contact with Dani, Lorenzo and Spies. It’s important to start the season with a good result and I will give everything in the race".
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "We can’t ask for a much better weekend, everything has gone well and the team have made all the right steps and gradually improved the bike as the weekend progressed.
"Tonight I was able to achieve good, consistent lap times again on the hard tire and this is important for the race tomorrow. As ever, we will keep our feet on the ground as we’ve had good starts to seasons in the past and then they haven’t played out as expected, we just need to keep working and ensure that we continue to progress. We’ve done all our homework and the best job possible, now I just want to get the season started".
Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing M1) says: "There were some really impressive lap times out there tonight in the session. We are still quite far behind the front but our goal is to finish on the podium and that is in my mind for tomorrow. My race pace is pretty good; I think I can keep running 1’55.7s or maybe 1’55.8s. We will finalize our set up in warm up and try to achieve that tomorrow."
Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing M1) says: "It was actually better to be fifth than fourth for grid position although I’d have liked to be on the front row! It wasn’t a perfect session, I didn’t nail a perfect lap time but you rarely do. I don’t think we were too far off the maximum, maybe there were two tenths left in the bike and that’s it. It’s not so bad though, we have a good package to battle for the podium tomorrow. I did the best I could so not a bad start to the year."
Randy De Puniet (Pramac Racing Ducati GP11) says: "I am a bit ‘disappointed with qualifying today. We had a good strategy in mind having three sets of soft tires available, but at the end of the session when it was time to make the fast lap time something went wrong. During the session we have made some changes on the front to have more confidence in corners and this will allow me to be consistent in the race tomorrow.
"Unfortunately the last time out the front tire was not performing as in previous trials and I was limited. A minimum target point for me was the third row, but unfortunately we did not make it. Tomorrow will be very important to start well so we can stick to the leading group from the firsts laps."
Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing Ducati GP11) says: "With today’s higher temperatures we have lost the feeling found yesterday. We had some complications with the tires and the front of the bike. When I come out of the corners I can not open the throttle as I want because the bike slides a bit. We will work hard to improve.
"Tomorrow will be important to start in the clean side of the track because where we do not usually pass there is a little bit of sand and the bike slide a bit. Anyway as always I will give my best."
Cal Crutchlow (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha M1) says: "It feels great to have qualified eighth when you look at the ca libre and record of some of the guys behind me, but I’m not going to be getting ahead of myself. It is just a shame it is not the four-rider per row formation because that would be a second row!
"But to be on the third row, I’m happy enough with that. A qualifying session like that is not like Superpole in World Superbikes at all. I’m normally used to the intense pressure and being hyped up for one lap, so to have an hour where you build up pace a bit slower felt a bit strange. But I’m really happy and my fastest lap wasn’t a perfect one.
"I made a couple of mistakes but I think that’s because I’m having a small issue with the front-end in the fast corners. But I still managed a 55.5 and I never would have imagined doing that pace a few days ago at the test when I was doing high 57s.
"I’m not going to make a prediction for the race. I’d be happy to get a few points and have a strong race. It will be tough to finish where I’ve qualified but with the help of my Monster Yamaha Tech 3 crew, it has been a really positive weekend so far."
Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha M1) says: "I definitely feel like I’m riding a lot better than tenth position, but that shows how competitive MotoGP is this year. As good as I’m riding, I feel like I should have been on the second row because all week I’ve been around sixth and seventh position. I just wasn’t able to lap as fast as I needed to be on the soft tire.
"It looks a bit like last year in that when the Honda has a soft tire in they can drop the lap time by a big chunk. We improve but not by a big margin and that’s something we need to work on in the future. But I’m really confident with the hard rear tire and we’ve got the bike working great in race trim. I’m fast and consistent but I couldn’t do anything more, I’m definitely getting the most of the bike."
Toni Elias (LCR Honda RC212V) says: "Basically we have tried different chassis geometries and different suspension but whatever we tried we get stocked on the same lap time and this is very frustrating for me. We are struggling a lot… more than I was expecting but we still have 20 minutes tomorrow to adjust the bike. I want to thank the Team for their good job and I will continue to my best."
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) says: "Today went well and I am happy because after the two sessions yesterday I didn’t think fourth place would be possible. We made a few small modifications this evening and found a better race setting, then on my qualifying lap I pushed really hard and only missed out on the front row by 0.041 seconds. It’s a shame.
"I am still concerned about fuel consumption but we have some more changes to make before the race. Still, starting so close the the front is an advantage and the other bikes will be burning fuel too! The front two are really strong and it’s a closed shop between them but the rest of us have a battle on for a top position."
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) says: "The grid position isn’t fantastic but in race trim I feel ready.I would have obviously liked to start closer to the front but I am still pretty confident about tomorrow night. Unfortunately there was a lot of traffic out there at the end of the session and I couldn’t improve but I am looking forward to a good race and a good result."