Rossi back on top at Donington Park

After recording his worst result of the season so far with third place in Laguna Seca two weeks ago, Valentino Rossi was firmly back on top of the MotoGP pile with a stunning new pole record at Donington Park on Saturday afternoon. In warmer temperatures than yesterday's free practice and with dry track conditions Rossi beat his own previous best at this circuit by almost a full second as he scorched to a lap of 1'27.897, some 0.285 seconds quicker than his closest challenger Sete Gibernau. Sunday's race will be the third time Rossi has started from pole position at this racetrack and on each of the previous two occasions he has gone on to take victory.

"I think for tomorrow everybody will be waking up and hoping for good weather because yesterday we lost a lot of time because of the rain," said Rossi. "Today the situation was better, it was a few degrees warmer and when the conditions are like this it is a great pleasure to ride at Donington Park. With the MotoGP bike it is incredible, one of my favourite tracks, and I always go very well here. I am happy because I was able to do a great lap - almost one second faster than last year. The bike is quite good and the feeling is not bad, also with the race configuration. For sure the race will be hard but we will try to fix a few last things in the morning and I hope to do well."

Whilst second place for Gibernau represented a huge improvement on his qualifying performance from Laguna Seca, where he started from 13th on the grid, the Spaniard is sure to come under pressure from the men behind him, with the top fourteen qualifiers all lapping inside Colin Edwards' circuit record this afternoon. The closest of those is Gibernau's team-mate, Marco Melandri, who clinched third place to secure his sixth front row start of the season.

Alex Barros will start his milestone 250th Grand Prix from fourth place and the Brazilian is joined on the second row by American pair Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who took first and second place respectively in the last round. Hayden is looking to become the first rider to follow up a debut success with a consecutive victory since Kenny Roberts in 1999. Troy Bayliss backed up his improved results at Laguna Seca with the seventh fastest time in today's qualifying session, with Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada joining the Australian on an all-Honda third row.

After lapping third fastest yesterday Suzuki rider John Hopkins was unable to repeat his performance today and slipped to tenth on the time sheets, signifying a fourth row start in front of the large support provided by his English family and friends. Loris Capirossi and Shinya Nakano complete the fourth row of tomorrow's grid for the ninth round of the championship.

Dani Pedrosa suffered mixed emotions at the end of qualifying practice for the 250cc race, crashing his Honda just moments after the chequered flag had confirmed his fourth pole position of the season and a new pole record. The Spaniard was unhurt but visibly annoyed after running onto the white line on the outside of the track at the entrance to the famous 'Fogarty Esses' and losing control of the rear wheel. Pedrosa's crash came at the end of an entertaining but accident-strewn session, which also saw local rider Chaz Davies, Sebastián Porto, Simone Corsi, Radomil Rous, Steve Jenkner and Gabriele Ferro hit the deck, fighting off the challenge of Jorge Lorenzo for pole position. The Spanish pair are joined on the front row by Alex de Angelis and Andrea Dovizioso, with Porto heading up the second row from Randy de Puniet, Hector Barberá and Hiroshi Aoyama. Casey Stoner, who lies second in the championship and 37 points behind Pedrosa, qualified tenth fastest whilst fellow Australian Anthony West will start just five places further back in the maiden race for the 250cc KTM machine.

Mika Kallio set his sixth pole position of the season in the 125cc class, dominating the session virtually from start to finish before ending with a fastest lap of 1'37.295. The Finnish rider was 0.101 seconds clear of Mattia Pasini, currently a joint leader of the series with Gabor Talmacsi, who qualified seventh. Marco Simoncelli and Thomas Lüthi complete a front row of four riders who have all led the championship at some stage this season.

Photo: Gauloises Yamaha

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