Rossi on provisional first row in Sepang


Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi (2’02.700) rode his Yamaha YZR-M1 to third place in today’s provisional qualifying at Sepang. His best lap of 2’02.700s led the order until he was knocked off the top spot in the final minutes by eventual fastest man Makoto Tamada (Honda, 2’02.394) and second place rider Sete Gibernau (Honda, 2’02.629). Rossi’s team-mate Carlos Checa finished tenth in the order, after a tough early sector of the afternoon session with a 2’04.245.

Just as most of the top competitors at Sepang made ready to start their first lap, a sudden burst of tropical rain made the track treacherous in places, largely dry in others. This held back the lap times until the track started to dry out, when the names at the top of the times list changed with frequency. Rossi led twice, his last flirtation with provisional pole looking like it would withstand any further attacks, until the last two minutes of the session.

Checa had the misfortune to run off and crash with few minutes of the session completed, running back to pit lane to use his spare machine. He returned to the fight to secure tenth fastest time, after struggling to find a good machine balance on his less favoured bike.

The Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 pairing of Norick Abe and Marco Melandri did not profit from a weird first qualifying session. At the conclusion of the Malaysian provisional qualifying session Norick (2’05.342) finished 16th fastest and Marco (2’07.377) 19th.

Norick worked through the tyre options in the session and found machine set-up to be the limiting factor in conditions of patchy grip, albeit in one place. Even a super-sticky qualifying tyre could not provide the traction he needed to improve his time.

Marco was desperately disappointed to be denied a chance to set a more respectable performance. When it came to fitting a qualifying tyre, machine trouble then robbed the Italian of a chance to show his speed.

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) third – 2’02.700
“It was finally quite a good day. We had some problems this morning and I couldn’t get the best from the bike. We have changed a lot of things since we tested here in February, the set-up is quite different now. But the work we did this afternoon went well. I made a good lap. I’m third, which is quite a good position and I hope to improve even more tomorrow morning. I only managed to use one qualifying tyre, I hope to have the possibility to use more tomorrow. I feel motivated and concentrated and we will continue the set-up work tomorrow morning.”

Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) tenth – 2’04.245
“I did not see that there was a wet area on the track and that’s why I fell so early in the session. It was a slow one but I just lost the front wheel immediately. I had a dark visor on, and that did not help. There were no flags, and that was a mistake from the marshals. If some part of the track is wet, and another dry, we should have information. I went out on my second bike but I did not have the correct rhythm and timing, especially under braking and when leaned over. The balance was not right. So we have to try to do better tomorrow.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team director
“This session started in a strange situation, as it had begun to rain but only in two sections of the track, the last corner and turn seven. They were fully wet. As it dried out the riders had to pay a lot of attention. Only in the last ten minutes was it possible for the riders to try a real hot lap. Unfortunately, Carlos had a crash early in the session. Valentino is provisionally third, on the front row. The weather can be critical in the next two days, it’s very typical to have a shower in the afternoon, and that will make things complicated. So we will try to be ready for all weather conditions.”

Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 16th – 2’05.342
“Today the tyres were spinning-up way too easily. The conditions were bad with the rain and even qualifying tyres were spinning-up badly too. My engine’s fine and we just need to work on the settings because other Michelin riders seem to have much more grip.”

Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 19th – 2’07.377
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Hervé Poncharal, Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 team director
“I feel sorry for Marco who was showing well when the track was damp, up to second, then third fastest. Unfortunately he couldn’t use his qualifying tyre because of mechanical trouble. It’s a shame, but we know we can do better tomorrow and we should be much better placed then. Norick did a solid session, but it was a strange first qualifying with one wet turn for the first half-hour. And then it ends up with a pole time quicker than the lap record. It shows we all have the potential to go quicker.”