The Italian repeatedly smashed the pole record here to make sure of the top spot, eventually clocking a best lap of 1’31.002 to hold off the twin challenge of Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi (Ducati), who join him on the front row. Tomorrow, in front of an expected crowd of over 120,000 fans, the five-time MotoGP World Champion will defend an eight-point advantage over Nicky Hayden (Honda) as he aims to secure his sixth consecutive title.
Hayden, the only man with a mathematical chance of denying Rossi, starts from the second row after qualifying fifth fastest, meaning there are three riders between the championship contenders on the grid. Unfortunately Rossi’s Camel Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards is not one of those, having struggled to significantly improve his lap times on a qualifying tyre this afternoon. Nevertheless, the in-form Texan has set an impressive pace throughout the day on race rubber.
In the morning free practice, when Rossi also topped the time sheets, Edwards was fourth fastest and in the afternoon he lapped consistently inside the circuit record before being forced to settle for tenth place on the grid.
VALENTINO ROSSI (1st – 1’31.002; 30 laps) “We knew we had great potential with the qualifying tyre because we tried it this morning in the free practice and then this afternoon I did three very good laps, each one better and better and then the final lap was very fast. To do a 1’31.0 was really incredible. This pole position is crucial for me because it is an important part of my race tactics to start from the front. The session couldn’t have gone much better for us because we have a couple of other riders between myself and Nicky. It is a shame Colin is not one of them but he has a good race pace so hopefully he can help me out like he did at Estoril. The team has done a great job this weekend, especially with the balance of the bike. Now we need to make one or two small changes for tomorrow and then we’ll just wait and see. I hope the weather will be like this – for the riders and for the fans because it looks like there will be a great crowd! Now we have the most important thirty laps of the season left to complete our target.”
COLIN EDWARDS (10th – 1’31.711; 28 laps) “I’m really pleased with the race setting although we could still make a little more time up in the second sector so that is something we will look at in the warm-up tomorrow. I’m also having a slight problem under braking into turn one but it’s good to know that even with those small setbacks we are still right up there in terms of the pace we can expect to see at the front tomorrow. The bike is a lot better than yesterday – we were confident that the changes we had in mind would work and they did, so I have to give my thanks to the team for that. They’ve done a great job on the bike and we’re all set to give a good showing in the last race. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get it done on the qualifying tyre today so the starting position is a little further back than we would like but I know this circuit really well and hopefully I can use that knowledge to make as many passes as possible at the start of the race, get up there and help Valentino win this championship.”
DAVIDE BRIVIO – CAMEL YAMAHA TEAM DIRECTOR “We couldn’t have asked for a better starting position for the most important race of the season but the main thing is that Valentino’s general feeling with the bike is good and he is comfortable going into such a big day tomorrow. Of course, anything can still happen but we feel ready for this last battle and happy in the knowledge that our bike will be competitive enough to go out and race.
Unfortunately Colin wasn’t able to take advantage of the qualifying tyre today but we’re pleased with his pace on race rubber and we expect a big effort from him tomorrow. If he can get a good start then I’m sure he can stay with the lead group and help out Valentino, just like he did at Estoril. We are ready for D-Day!”