Rossi front row at Phillip Island


Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Carlos Checa had very different finishes to their Phillip Island final qualifying session today, Rossi just missing out on pole position while Checa fell, without injury, in the final minutes of the session. Rossi, however, was not quite able to improve on his provisional pole position time from Friday, a 1’30.222, due to some set-up difficulties. The reigning World Champion will start tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix from second place on the grid. His team-mate Checa (1’31.359) will now start the race from the fifth row, having set overall 13th best time today.

Rossi, who came in for a new rear tyre just before his final assault on the stopwatch, was only overhauled by one rider today, his sole championship rival Sete Gibernau (Honda), who took the best time of 1”30.122. If Rossi finishes anywhere ahead of Gibernau in tomorrow’s showdown he will win the championship, and even if Gibernau wins the race, second place would be enough for Rossi to lift the trophy.

Checa made rapid improvements in the first part of the hour-long session, improving his position twice inside the first ten minutes, going to fifth fastest on race tyres. Slowly dropping through the order, he was to finish 13th, crashing out on his final attempt to set an improved time.

Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 rider Marco Melandri (1’30.927) qualified in tenth place for tomorrow’s 27-lap race. His team-mate Norick Abe (1’32.452) struggled during today’s final hour of qualifying and will start from 18th on the grid. Marco was plagued by front-end chatter problems and the rapid Italian rider was losing time in the two long left-hand turns that are negotiated before the start/finish straight – considered the most important section of the circuit. But he reckons his race rhythm is good enough to put him in contention tomorrow.

Norick remains upbeat about his chances in the race despite turning in a disappointing qualifying performance. Lack of rear grip is the doughty Japanese rider’s bugbear here. But Norick still believes there’s time to fix the problem in the 20-minute morning warm-up session before the race in the afternoon.

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) second – 1’30.222
“Unfortunately we are not in pole position as we are not at 100% with the set-up. If we were at 100% I think we could have made the 1’29s. My rhythm is good, but the feeling with the bike is not perfect, especially from the front. But it is difficult here to have the perfect set-up for the whole track. We lost time this morning trying some tyres with Michelin, but finally we won’t use them. We will make set-up changes tomorrow morning. As for the championship, fortunately I have good experience of being in this position, but every time is like the first. It won’t be a problem sleeping tonight though. Sete is very strong here, and we know it will be a good contest.”

Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) 13th – 1’31.359
“That was a big crash and I still don’t understand it. I went out for a fast lap and had let some riders get ahead on the previous lap in order to get some clear track. When I went into turn six both tyres just went. My feeling was that it was the front, but it felt a bit strange. With a race tyre the bike is quite good here. We had a good pace, and I was confident I could improve my lap from before but it was not the case.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team director
“We are in the first row with Valentino so that is not so bad, and we can improve our bike and settings. I think Valentino had the fastest pace on race tyres in this qualifying, but he is still not completely happy. Jerry and the engineers are studying the situation now. We were running short of time and needed more practice time. But to be on the front row is a good thing for tomorrow, as it is a very important race for us. Carlos crashed on his hot lap but his race pace is not so bad. With a race tyre it is a lot better. Starting from the fifth row will be hard for him but he can fight.”

Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) tenth – 1’30.927
“I’ve still got chatter trouble at the front and this makes keeping my corner speed up very difficult. It’s a shame because the overall feel of the bike is good. The long left-hand turns are where the problem is worse, but we’ll keep working on it tomorrow. I think my race rhythm should be okay – we’ll see.”

Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 18th – 1’ 32.452
“Not good at all. I made a 1.3 second improvement on my best time from yesterday but it wasn’t good enough and I’m down in 18th. The big problem is rear grip for me. In slow turns and fast turns – I just don’t have enough traction.”

Hervé Poncharal, Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 team director
“That was a very close session. And a tight grid usually means a tight race here – so in that respect it should be exciting tomorrow. We’re in reasonable shape here with Marco less than a second off the pole time. We know how hungry he is and he wants another podium before the end of the season. Norick is not doing so well and again he’ll have to rely on a good race pace to show well.”