Fans at Mugello were treated to a great battle in qualifying on Saturday afternoon, with Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo upstaging his teammate Valentino Rossi at the World Champion’s home track – the Spaniard taking pole and the Italian left off the front row.
In brilliant sunshine at the Gran Premio d’Italia Alice four riders fought for pole right at the death. Lorenzo eventually emerged on top, courtesy of a 1’48.987 time on the 29th of his 30 laps, beating Casey Stoner by a tight margin (0.021s).
Ducati star Stoner had looked strong in both practice sessions, save for a crash in the morning run, but remains unconvinced about his chances of victory. With a front row start, however, he seems more than capable of challenging for the win on Sunday.
Just behind Stoner on the grid will be his former team-mate Loris Capirossi, who surged to provisional pole in the final minutes on his Rizla Suzuki GSV-R before ultimately ending up third.
Rossi, therefore, sits in the unfamiliar territory of the second row at a circuit where he has won the last seven MotoGP races, but he will nonetheless expect to be pushing for all 25 points when the lights go out. This is his first non-front row start at Mugello in MotoGP.
An excellent showing from speedy qualifier Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) saw him on the second line as the top Honda representative, whilst Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards finished just behind him by a 0.048s margin.
Repsol Honda’s factory Honda pairing of Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa make up an uncharacteristic third row. An off-colour Pedrosa spent much of the session towards the bottom of the timesheet and he will need one of his trademark strong starts in Sunday’s race in order to get amongst the front-runners and stay in touch in the title race.
Toni Elías (San Carlo Honda Gresini) took a tumble when on a fast lap at the end of the run and found himself in ninth place, with fellow Honda rider Yuki Takahashi (Scot Racing) completing the top ten.
World Champion Marco Simoncelli had to settle for second place in the 250cc qualifying session, as he was unable to prevent title rival Álvaro Bautista from taking pole.
Spanish competitor Bautista secured his third pole position start of 2009 with a 1’52.804 time on his penultimate lap, which put him just 0.014s ahead of Metis Gilera rider Simoncelli – with whom he is likely to battle for supremacy in Sunday’s race.
Bautista and Simoncelli’s fellow championship protagonists Héctor Barberá (Pepe World Team) and Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Racing Team) will also commence the fifth 250cc contest of the season on the front row.
Behind them on the grid will be fierce rivals Alex Debon (Aeropuerto-Castello-Blusens) and Thomas Luthi (Emmi – Caffe Latte) who clashed in Le Mans two weeks ago, whilst the second row will also feature Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT SAG) and Mattia Pasini (Team Toth Aprilia).
Bancaja Aspar rider Bradley Smith set a new 125cc Mugello pole record earlier in the afternoon, his 1’58.134 hot lap beating Lukas Pesek’s record from 2006 by a 0.068s margin. Smith therefore heads the 125cc grid for the first time this season, having taken pole on three occasions last year.
The Oxfordshire teenager is joined on the front row by three riders he knows very well, namely his compatriot Scott Redding (Blusens Aprilia) in second place and teammates Julián Simón and Sergio Gadea in third and fourth respectively.
Another Spanish competitor, Marc Márquez (Red Bull KTM), heads the second row, in front of home rider Andrea Iannone (Ongetta Team I.S.P.A.), Frenchman Johann Zarco (WTR San Marino Team) and the KTM rider’s countryman Pol Espargaró (Derbi Racing Team).