Rossi on pole for Malaysian grand prix

Qualifying

Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi took his YZR-M1 to a new all-time qualifying best of 2’01.833 this afternoon to secure pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix. His team-mate Carlos Checa (2’02.602) will make a third row start after finishing with the ninth-best time, 0.769 seconds from the pole time. Rossi will share the front row with Alex Barros (Honda, 2’02.228) and Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki, 2’02.278).

Rossi was quickly out of pit lane as threatening dark clouds gathered near the Sepang circuit. The track stayed dry, however, until the final minutes of the session, and Rossi duly posted the best lap of the weekend mid-way through the one hour. A further attempt to improve his time was on course until an isolated spot of rain affected the track adhesion so that few riders could improve their times. Rossi’s 2004 lap time was almost two full seconds better than his own circuit best lap from the 2003 event.

Checa, who worked hard to improve his qualifying and race set-up, secured ninth place on the grid after spending the early part of the session in the top ten. The Spaniard went over 1.5 seconds faster today than he did in his crash-affected session on Friday.

Both Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 riders improved on their qualifying performances of yesterday with a tenth place on the grid for Marco Melandri (2’02.852) and a 16th place start for Norick Abe (2’04.284) in today’s final hour-long session. Today Marco immediately put yesterday’s aggravation behind him, and despite a fall in the morning free training session, the Italian worked tirelessly in the Malaysian strength-sapping humidity. He achieved a comfortable race set-up and reckons on a strong showing in tomorrow’s 21-lap contest.

Norick starts from the sixth row and the hugely experienced Japanese man knows he has to find the key to optimising his race set-up in the short 20-minute warm-up tomorrow. But he’s done this before, and successfully unlocked the potential of his YZR-M1 machine at the final opportunity.

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) pole – 2’01.833
“We did a great job and we worked a lot on the race set-up. Tomorrow’s race will be hard on the riders, on the bikes and especially on the tyres. We did a long run with the same tyre and on both the rear and the front we started some laps with used tyres to simulate real race conditions. My rhythm is good, and I think it will be possible to make 2:02s laps at the beginning, and it will then be down to the condition of the tyres. But we will try to stay not far from that pace. I hope we can have a dry race tomorrow as the Michelins are running well here.”

Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) ninth – 2’02.602
“We made quite a big improvement in the lap time. This morning we had a general improvement in pace and that allowed us to make a better lap time in the final session. We qualified faster than last year as well, which is satisfying. There was a little rain in the last minutes of qualifying, when I tried to go even faster, and because of this I lost some tenths of a second. We are still losing in some areas, so we need to adapt and use what we have in the best way. It’s always hard here in Malaysia but this year the weather is a little bit more confusing than normal.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team director
“A very good day today for us. The team worked very well and Valentino is quite happy with the bike. We tested the race tyres so I think we will be ready in dry conditions. If it rains we will miss the show of a very good battle so we all hope for dry conditions. Valentino’s ideal time is a 2’01.4, even more unbelievable. Carlos did well and could have done even better but he felt some drops on his visor so he had to slow down. Carlos has made a big improvement in his lap time, so I’m sure he can have a good race tomorrow.”

Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) tenth – 2’02.852
“Yesterday was terrible and now things are a little bit better. We’re going in the right direction and my confidence is coming back. We’ve done a lot of work on race tyres today, but the weather looks like it might be a big problem. There was even a little bit of rain today in the last third of the track. My fall this morning was due to a slight lack of confidence in the front-end ¬¬– and when you don’t quite have the right feeling from a MotoGP bike it’s easy to fall off. But everything else if fine.”

Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 16th – 2’04.284
“The bike is still a bit short of rear traction, but I’ve got trouble on the brakes too, so the front is a problem as well. I can’t brake deep into the turns so my entries are not so good, and the exits aren’t the best either. But I’ve got good race tyres chosen and we’ve got more settings to try in warm-up tomorrow morning.”

Hervé Poncharal, Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 team director
“It was much better than yesterday, and both riders are now more consistent on race tyres too. Marco had a tough time yesterday and today he’s now tenth – he’s only a second away from the pole time and that’s not too big a gap. Both riders look strong and I think they can cope with whatever the conditions are tomorrow. Marco could well have had a podium finish last weekend and he’s in with a chance of a top five finish here. As a Yamaha team we’re also really happy to see Valentino on pole and hope that’s where he finishes in the race.”