Sete Gibernau (Team Movistar Honda RC211V) is in position to take the fight to reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) at the Italian's 'home' race. Although Rossi starts from pole, Sete's front row start as second fastest qualifier is enough to ensure the Spaniard will be in contention tomorrow.
Gibernau ended the hour-long qualifying session just 0.138 seconds shy of Rossi's pole time of 1m 49.223s. But Sete had been at the top of the timesheet for most of the second half of the session and looked comfortable as he worked at the set-up of his RC221V on race tyres and qualifying rubber.
With so many Italian riders in contention here at Mugello, competition was intense and both Ducati riders Carlos Checa and Loris Capirossi enjoyed brief stints on provisional pole before Gibernau made his intent clear with 15 minutes to go.
Encouragingly, Max Biaggi (Repsol Honda RC211V) starts on the front row for the first time this season as third fastest qualifier. The Roman has been unable to qualify well so far in 2005, so this represents something of a breakthrough for the factory Repsol man.
His team-mate Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) equals his best qualifying performance so far this year with a fourth on the grid and the American will be desperate to turn a solid qualifying effort into a rostrum result here.
Alex Barros (Camel Honda RC211V) ran as high as fourth fastest in the early stages, but faded as time ebbed away and the veteran Brazilian will have to make do with a fifth row start from 13th on the grid.
Marco Melandri (Team Movistar Honda RC211V) could not make it four front row starts from five attempts here and qualified seventh fastest for a third row start. The Italian is 0.582 seconds adrift of the pole time.
Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) has to be content with 10th fastest time on his return to the track after a three-race lay-off with an injured left wrist. But the Japanese flier is at least into the 1m 49 second bracket in terms of lap times.
Troy Bayliss (Camel Honda RC211V) will be concerned with his performance here after managing a best time of only 1m 51.764 seconds. The Australian will start from the sixth row of the grid and he has not looked nearly comfortable enough yet to expect better in the race.
Gibernau said, "I'm very satisfied with yesterday and today. I'd liked to be on pole, and I was close - I tried my best. The important thing is I'm on the front row and I've got a good set-up. We did out best lap on race rubber and I've got a good rhythm for the race."
Max was relieved with his qualifying ride and said, "So I start from the front row. That's something I'm used to doing and getting back to the front at Mugello has a special significance. I might have done even better, but I ran out of time to use the second qualifying tyre. But on the whole I'm satisfied so far."
"I'm much happier than yesterday," said Nicky. "I just hope the weekend stays positive because we've made a lot of progress and I'm much more confident on the bike. I've got a lot more confidence on downhill turns and that helps a lot with lap times here. But I still need to do more work on qualifying tyres."
Melandri is race-ready on row three and said, "We worked hard on suspension settings and especially the front forks. I spent time trying to find a solution that would allow me a fast qualifying lap and I was expecting to be on row two. But I'm highly motivated for this race."
"I expected more," said Tamada in 10th. "I felt pain today, but I think that I could have finished in a better position if a rider hadn't fallen in front of me on my fast lap. Tomorrow morning we'll try to improve the set-up of the bike to attack from the beginning. I'm not worried about the position on the starting grid, but I'll have to work hard."
Barros said, "With the race tyres things went quite well, we were quick and we confirmed the choices we had made. But with the soft tyres however I was unable to improve at all. It's now a problem for the race because the starting position is obviously one of the most important things. Everything lies on the first lap now. I've got the pace to keep up with the front-runners and if I manage to stay out of traffic, we are still in the sort of shape we can do well in."
"I've tried everything," said a dejected Bayliss. "I've given my all, but things haven't gone well, that's obvious. There's clearly something missing, I just don't have the feeling with the bike. I'm 17th, and I don't know if I've ever been so far back - it's not a great feeling. All I can do is continue to try things, and so in the warm-up we'll experiment a bit, but it will be a difficult race."
The expected Aprilia domination of 250cc qualifying was prevented by the flying Jorge Lorenzo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) who sped to his first pole in the class. Casey Stoner (Aprilia) was second fastest with Andrea Dovizioso (Scot Racing Team Honda RS250RW) in third and Randy de Puniet (Aprilia) completing the front row.
World Champion Dani Pedrosa (Team Movistar Honda RS250RW), who heads the overall points table, could only manage seventh and said, "After the carburation problems yesterday I had to run a new engine in today - and that takes time. It wasn't perfect at the beginning, but by the end I was only four tenths of a second off pole. I think a group of seven riders will be very close tomorrow."
A delighted Lorenzo said, "I'm really happy. The first time is always special and this is my first pole in 250cc. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the whole team because sometimes when things aren't going well I'm a bit out of order with them. I really appreciate their efforts. I'm learning to suffer - I finished reading the second part of Lance Armstrong's autobiography three days ago and it helped me a lot. I'm expecting a tough race tomorrow - 125 style!"
Mika Kallio (KTM) dominated the 125cc qualifying session. The Finn put in a lap of 1m 58.662 seconds to remain the only rider under the 1m 59s marker. His team-mate Gabor Talmacsi qualified second fastest with Hector Faubel and Mattia Pasini (both Aprilia) third and fourth fastest qualifiers.
Marco Simoncelli (Aprilia) heads row two and alongside him is Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) in sixth. Luthi is 1.285 seconds short of the pole time here and the Swiss race winner will have to find some extra speed in the warm-up session tomorrow if he is to challenge for the win.
Wild card rider Michele Conti (Kuja Racing Honda RS125R) rode brilliantly to qualify seventh on row two while Fabrizio Lai (Kopron Racing World Honda RS125RW) who is currently fourth overall in the World Championship table heads row three as ninth fastest qualifier.
Mike Di Meglio (Kopron Racing World Honda RS125R) qualified 11th and Angel Rodriguez (Galicia Honda RS125R) was 12th fastest today. At a track where 'home' team Aprilia were expected to shine, it's the KTM factory that has shown the most speed.
Luhti said, "I'm very angry with myself. The bike was fast but when I was with Kallio on the final lap of qualifying I ran wide and he got away from me, so I have to settle for sixth."
"I'll have to start really well from row three," said Lai. "I had a few engine problems today and so I couldn't make much of an impression. Then I fell and I'm okay apart from a small bone chip on my right knee."
HONDA TEAM QUOTES:
Sete Gibernau, Movistar Honda MotoGP: 2nd: "I'm very satisfied with the results in practice both from yesterday and today. Obviously I would have liked to start from pole but at the end of the day I was very close and tried my best. The important thing is that we're starting from the front row and we have a good set-up for the race. We did a great lap time without using qualifying tyres and spent a lot of time working on my rhythm on spent tyres. I have to get a good start and just go for it. The tyres will be extremely important and so will physical fitness. I hope the weather is on our side and that the work we've done on Friday and Saturday pays off in the race."
Max Biaggi, Repsol Honda Team: 3rd: "So I start from the first row. Last year I was used to it but this year it never happened before and coming back in front here at Mugello has a special meaning for me. Unfortunately I could not use the second qualifying tyre because when I passed the finish line time was out just two seconds before. I could have done better but I'm satisfied anyway. I'm happy for my team. They are all doing their best and they did a very good job. Tomorrow we can do a good race. Finally."
Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, 4th : Much happier than I was yesterday - I just hope the weekend stays positive. The team have done a real good job. We've made a lot of progress today and I feel a lot more comfortable on the bike. I also have a lot more confidence in downhill corners and that really helps with the lap time. We still have some way to go on getting the timing exactly right with the qualifying tyres. We were short today by 0.3s seconds so we have to keep working on that. Tomorrow's the big one. It's never easy but that's what I like, this is the best racing in the world. As usual we have to make a good start, stay concentrated and see what happens after 23 laps. It's the beginning of a big June!"
Marco Melandri, Movistar Honda MotoGP: 7th: "We've worked a lot on the suspension and the front fork and spent a lot of time trying to find a solution, which in the end meant I couldn't make the most of the qualify! ing tyre. I was expecting to at least be on the second row of the grid but I'm feeling very motivated about the race. I'm staying calm though - my objective is still to pick up as many points as possible."
Makoto Tamada, Konica Minolta Honda: 10th: "I expected more. I felt pain today, but I think that I could have finish in a better position if in my last fast lap a rider wouldn't fall in front of me. I have been disturbed, but I'm trustful for tomorrow's race even if we still need to find the optimal balance on my Honda RC211V. Tomorrow morning we'll try to improve the set up of the bike to attack from the beginning. I'm not worried for the position on the starting grid because this circuit permits to choose different trajectories, therefore I will only have to work hard."
Alex Barros, Camel Honda, 13th: "With the race tyres things went quite well, we were quick and we confirmed the choices we had made. With the soft tyres however I was unable to improve at all, but I was giving everything. It's now a problem for the race because the starting position is obviously one of the most important things. Everything lies on the first lap now. I've got the pace to keep up with the front-runners and if I manage to stay out of the traffic, we are still in the sort of shape we can do well in."
Troy Bayliss, Camel Honda, 17th: "I've tried everything, have given my all, but things haven't gone well, that's obvious. There's clearly something missing, I just don't have the feeling with the bike. I'm seventeenth, and I don't know if I've ever been so far back - it's not a great feeling. All I can do is continue to try things, and so in the warm-up we will try a few things, but it will be a difficult race."
Dani Pedrosa, Telefonica MoviStar Honda 250cc: 7th: "After the carburetion problems we had yesterday we had to run a new engine in today and that always takes time. It was normal that it wasn't perfect at the beginning but by the end I was able to improve my time a little and qualify just four tenths off pole. There is a group of seven riders who are very close together, within half a second, and I think the race will be a similar story. It will be important to get a good start because the first corner is dangerous and then the aim will be to try and stick it out at the front. It's always a long race here but I'm not worried - I'm sure the bike will run well tomorrow and as long as the weather doesn't change I'll be fighting for a good result."
Hiroshi Aoyama, Telefonica MoviStar Honda 250cc: 9th: "We've basically got the same problems as yesterday. I can't get comfortable with the front end and ith the amount of direction changes there are here it's important to ride smoothly. Hopefully we can find a solution in the warm up tomorrow and improve in the race, when I will have more references than when I am riding on my own."
Jakub Smrz, Molenaar Honda: 11th: "The bike is really good, it gets better all the time. The team have worked hard and it shows in the results. Now we are faster we are finding problems we never had before. I am now only 1.5s off pole position and felt I could have gone a little faster. Still I am ahead of a few factory bikes so I'm more than pleased."
Dirk Heidolf, Kiefer Castrol Honda: 21st: "This morning the bike was very fast and the chassis good. We have a small engine problem but we know what it is. This afternoon I had a big crash on the last corner, a third gear high-side. I have damaged my let hip and my right knee, also my left elbow needed stiches. I will see how I feel in the morning, if the pain is not too bad I might race with an injection in my elbow."
Radomil Rous, Wurth Honda BQR: 23rd: "I have a small problem with the engine, its not puling cleanly off the corners, it feels as if its rich We have changed the carburetion settings for the warm up and I hope it will be better. The chassis, suspension and gearbox are really good so if we sort out the carb problem we'll be OK."
Alex Debon, Wurth Honda BQR: 26th: "I crashed when pushing hard for a fast lap time, the font end turned in and I was off. Tomorrow will be a difficult race for me because I start from so far back but if I get a good start we will see what happens. The bike is good, very good settings for chassis and engine."
Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda: 6th: "I am very angry with myself after that session. My bike was not so bad, very fast but when I was with Kallio on the last lap I ran wide at one corner and he got away from me so I have to settle for sixth on the grid. The handling is difficult and hard to find a good set up for the lap because the track is so bumpy, but it's the sae for all riders. My tyres are good but I guess I ill have a few slides over the last couple of laps. If I get a good start I can follow the leaders no problem."
Fabrizio Lai, Kopron Racing World Honda: 9th: "Tomorrow I will have to start well to recover some positions from the third row. In fact today I didn't improve my time due to an engine problem. What's more I fell today and Doctor Costa says I have a small fracture of the right knee, but nothing to worry about. "
Mike Di Meglio, Kopron Racing World Honda: 11th: "My bike is very good, the engine is very fast. I have a little problem with the chassis entering the corners is a little difficult I don't have a very good feeling with the front end. If I get aa good start I can confirm my performance at Le Mans. I have a chance of a podium in the race."
Toshihisa Kuzuhara, Angaia Racing Honda: 14th: "I could have made a better time but I caught some slower riders on my fast lap and could ot get passed them. I'm quite happy with the set up of my bike I want to take some points away from Mugello."
Tomoyoshi Koyama, Ajo Motorsport Honda: 20th: "I was involved in an incident with Espargaro and Bautista, when they suddenly slowed. Bautista hit Espargaro and I hit Bautista with my front brake lever and crashed. I have hurt my right arm and back, I also banged my head but nothing serious. Dr Costa will check me in the morning and see if I am OK to race. Right now I think I will race no problem."
Alexis Masbou, Ajo Motorsport Honda: 22nd: "The chicane was a little problem for me today but we will change the suspension to make it better. We also to work on the gearbox, I need a slightly shorter first gear. If the bike is good in the warm up I'm sure I will have a good race."
Aleix Espargaro, Seedorf RC3 Tiempo Holidays Honda: 23rd: "I have a good motorcycle, against the others I am very fast I places. I am one second faster this afternoon than I was yesterday. The engine an suspension are very good. I am sure I can run one second faster than that in the race. I was lucky in the afternoon when I made a mistake and Alvaro (Bautista) hit me then Koyama could not miss Alvaro. "
Sandro Cortese, Kiefer Boss Castrol Honda: 27th: "The bike was very good but I had a problem with chatter on the rear end. This is something we have to improve because the Honda's I followed did not have the same problems. I hope we get it right because I like this track, even if it is difficult to learn."
Alvaro Bautista, Seedorf RC3 Tiempo Holidays Honda: 30th: "I have the same feeling with the front end, I just don't have the confidence I need. That's a pity because before I has the clash with Koyama I was running OK."
Raymond Schouten, Molenaar Honda: 32nd: "There was more in the bike than I got out of it in the last session. I am not too confident because of my lap time. Five minutes from the end I was in a good grid position but could not improve when the others did."
Federico Sandi, Angaia Racing Honda: 40th: "I had some problems with suspension settings in the qualifying session. The bike was a lot better this morning so I will return to the set up we had. The engine is good so I should be faster tomorrow."
Source: Honda Motor Company, Ltd - Motor Sports Division