Rossi on provisional Phillip Island pole

Qualifying

After a morning of extreme weather conditions at Phillip Island, including torrential rain and a short hailstorm, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi made the most of the warm and dry afternoon to take provisional pole in this afternoon’s first qualifying session in Australia. His time of 1’30.222s was just shy of his own qualifying record, and came after only one dry hour of track time. Carlos Checa, his team-mate, took 11th fastest time (1’31.929) after being held up during what could have been his quickest lap. Checa had been as high as third earlier in the session, before resorting to qualifying tyres.

In the top spot for the majority of the session, Rossi was deposed by Colin Edwards (Honda, 1’31.387) at one stage before powering to provisional pole with 12 minutes left. Rossi extended his advantage on his final lap, with only himself and his remaining championship rival Sete Gibernau (Honda, 1’30.600) eventually in the 1:30s bracket.

Checa, today celebrating his 32nd birthday, was up with the leading group on race tyres, but after being balked on his potential fastest lap, with qualifying rubber fitted to his Yamaha YZR-M1, he slipped down the order to finish 11th, 1.707 seconds from Rossi.

Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 riders Marco Melandri (1’31.760) and Norick Abe (1’33.753) went all out to get a grip on the first timed qualifying session here at a windy Phillip Island this afternoon. The conditions caught a few people out, including Melandri, who crashed but bounced back strongly for a provisional tenth place. Norick currently lies 19th.

Melandri’s big crash at turn one would have detuned many riders, but the durable Italian immediately went out on his number two bike and hauled himself into a top ten provisional with a tough display. Meanwhile Norick is relying on overnight work to his machine to eliminate similar front-end feel set-up that prevented him from maximising his performance today. And the Japanese star is convinced he can find the pace he needs here to finish this season strongly.

Rossi is going for his eighth race win of a remarkable 2004 season, and any result in the top three on Sunday would be his 100th career podium, having scored an incredible 99 podium finishes in 138 starts in all classes of GP competition. He has already secured five previous victories at Phillip Island, two in the 250cc class and the last three in MotoGP.

Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) pole – 1’30.222
“I made a very good lap today, in the 1:30s, so I’m pleased to have that under my belt already. This morning was important because we also went very well in the wet. Also, in the dry the bike feels good. This afternoon we did well with the qualifying tyres but we still have to improve our settings on the race tyres, especially in the longer corners. There is a lot of pressure this weekend. I need to transform that into positive energy. A lot of my pit crew are from Australia, so this is a significant race for them as well. We all need maximum concentration.”

Carlos Checa (Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha) 11th – 1’31.929
“We had a good pace on race tyres but at the end of the session I met a lot of riders in the first section and lost too much time. I could not get a good lap time because of that and when I tried again on the next lap the tyre was already past its best and I lost time at the final corner. It is also difficult for me on a qualifying rear tyre because it pushes the front more. But I know I can improve my time tomorrow and we have more time to work for qualifying to improve my starting position.”

Davide Brivio, Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha team director
“A good start to the weekend for Valentino and he managed to stay in front of everybody. We still have some work to do on the bike because since we came here we changed the base setting and now it has to be adjusted to suit the track. There is room for improvement but already we are very close to the best ever time. The track was wet this morning so it is unusual that it has improved that much. The track should not be this quick. In normal race pace not so many riders have been as fast as Valentino. The weather should be better and better and we were fast in the wet this morning anyway. Carlos was good, in the top for a long time, but he lost the chance to use his qualifying tyre. It was his birthday today so I’m sure he wanted better. On Sunday he will try to make a nice gift to himself on the track.”

Marco Melandri (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) tenth – 1’31.760
“I was having trouble with the front-end and when I opened the gas, the front never really felt connected. Then it went at turn one when I got on the throttle. I was on a qualifying tyre when I set my time on my number two bike. So on my number one bike I know I can do better, and I will tomorrow.”

Norick Abe (Fortuna Gauloises Tech3) 19th – 1’33.753
“This morning was wet, so this afternoon was a bit like a first session for us. I need a bit more time to get the feel of the bike right in the fast turns. The wind was a bit of a problem, but stopping the front-end from feeling loose is the main thing to do tomorrow.”

Hervé Poncharal, Fortuna Gauloises Tech3 team director
“It’s nice to be in Australia, but the weather’s tricky to deal with. This morning was wet and then dried out and Marco was third fastest. He’s good here and he started this afternoon’s session very consistently until his crash at turn one. I thought he’d be out of the session after that, but he came back strongly on his number two bike. He was looking good enough for a top six and it makes tomorrow interesting when the weather should be better. Norick is a bit far down, but he set that time on a race tyre, not a qualifier, so there’s more to come from him too.”