Sete Gibernau took a historic pole position for Honda at the inaugural Taobao.com Grand Prix of China on Saturday afternoon. Despite tremendous pressure from factory rivals including Ducati's Loris Capirossi and Suzuki youngster John Hopkins, Gibernau and his team-mate Marco Melandri posted a series of fast laps at the end of the qualifying session to seal the top two places on the starting grid.
"It's good to see that we're competitive at yet another track and particularly here, where we arrived without any previous data to work from," reflected Gibernau at the end of the session. "I think it's a difficult circuit but once again we've been at the maximum level. We're doing a great job, which hasn't been reflected in the race results yet, but I know that everything will be back to normal soon and we will be rewarded for our efforts."
Whilst second place for Melandri represents his best ever qualifying position and continues an excellent start to his first season with Honda, third place for Capirossi was enough to secure his first front row start since last October. Meanwhile, Hopkins narrowly missed out on the front row after being held up on a fast lap at the very end of the session but secured Suzuki's highest grid position of the year so far in fourth.
Hopkins is joined on the second row by Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, who qualified over a second adrift of pole position for the first time since Donington Park in 2001 - a race he went on to win. Carlos Checa slid to seventh place and a third row start after leading the session in the early stages, the Ducati rider clocking his fastest time on only his seventh lap but failing to improve in twelve further attempts.
The surprise of the session was Yamaha rookie Toni Elías, who set the eighth fastest time in just his third MotoGP qualifying session. The Spanish youngster also starts on the third row, just ahead of Kenny Roberts on the Suzuki. Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano completed the top ten ahead of Alex Barros, who currently lies second in the championship after winning the last round in Portugal. Meanwhile Nakano's team-mate Olivier Jacque enjoyed an impressive return to MotoGP riding as a replacement for the injured Alex Hofmann, qualifying in fifteenth place.
Casey Stoner became the first Australian rider to set pole position in the 250cc class since 1979 as he continued his early run of form on the Aprilia. Stoner lies fifth in the championship after crashing out of the opening round and taking victory in the second but will start from the front of the grid tomorrow ahead of Honda trio Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo.
Mika Kallio will defend his early championship lead from pole position for the second successive race after setting the fastest time in the 125cc class. The Finnish rider is joined on the front row by Marco Simoncelli, Gabor Talmacsi and Thomas Lüthi.
Source: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS