Loris Capirossi took his third pole position in as many weeks with a scintillating series of laps at the end of today's qualifying session for the Marlboro Grand Prix of Qatar. After starting from the front of the grid and going on to win the race at both Motegi and Sepang, the Ducati rider is on course for an incredible hat-trick at the fourteenth round of the season, where he will be joined on the front row by Sete Gibernau and Valentino Rossi.
"This is a difficult track for us but we made quite a good job during the practice," said Capirossi, who's time of 1'56.917 was more than two seconds quicker than last year's pole time, set by his current team-mate Carlos Checa. "We tested a lot of rear tyres and found the best solution for the front one, but for the race it will be very difficult. For sure, 21 laps in these conditions will be tough for everybody but we will see in the morning. I am very happy with this pole position, especially because it's not so easy to overtake at this track."
Gibernau, the winner of last year's inaugural race at the Losail International Circuit, ended the session just 0.077 seconds adrift of the Italian and was the only serious challenger for pole, with recently-crowned World Champion Rossi a further 0.366 seconds back. Colin Edwards, who finished second to Gibernau last season, had held on for top spot for lengthy spells during the session but eventually dropped back to fourth place in the late push for times on qualifying tyres.
Edwards is joined on the second row of the grid by Marco Melandri, who set the quickest time in the morning free practice session despite still riding with 35 stitches in the foot injury he sustained in a crash with Rossi at Motegi less than two weeks ago. Carlos Checa snatched the final second row spot from Shinya Nakano with a quick final lap that saw the Japanese rider relegated to seventh place.
Nakano will be the only Kawasaki rider on the grid tomorrow after Olivier Jacque was flown back to Europe for further checks on a back injury he sustained in a crash yesterday morning. The former 250cc World Champion, riding in place of the injured Alex Hofmann, was released from hospital but requires further diagnostic tests before beginning an intense recovery period ahead of the next round at Phillip Island, Australia, in two weeks' time.
Nicky Hayden was unable to extend his run of top six grid positions beyond eleven races after qualifying eighth fastest and joins Nakano on the third row, as does Toni Elías, the weekend's surprise package so far. Elías has lapped consistently amongst the top riders and today managed the ninth fastest time despite running into the gravel trap early in the afternoon session. The Spanish youngster starts tomorrow's race looking to emulate the achievement of his current Yamaha team-mate Rubén Xaus, who took a shock podium finish here last season when riding for Ducati.
Jorge Lorenzo boosted Spain's hopes of glory in the 250cc race with an emphatic pole position ahead of his return to race action following a one-race ban. Lorenzo, who won the 125cc race here last year, posted a time of 2'02.154 to hold off the challenge of Alex de Angelis, with Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa completing the front row. Pedrosa leads Stoner by 38 points in the current standings with tomorrow the first of four races that will decide the destiny of the World Championship. Last year's 250cc winner Sebastián Porto starts from the second row of the grid in fifth place.
In the 125cc class Mika Kallio took his eighth pole position of the season, competently holding off the challenge of Gabor Talmacsi and Mattia Pasini with a final lap of 2'09.455. Julián Simon made the most of a tow from Manuel Poggiali to knock the former World Champion off the front row in fourth place whilst Thomas Lüthi, who leads the series by eight points from Kallio, was caught out by a surprising return to action from Ángel Rodriguez. The Spaniard snatched the final second row spot and relegated the Swiss rider to ninth place after being called up as a late replacement for Vincent Braillard.
Source: DORNA COMMUNICATIONS
Photo: Ducati Corse s.r.l.