Australian GP Final Qualifying

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander
Wow! More than a few suprises today in Final Qualifying for the Australian GP.

The Ducatis have proven thier Top Speed advantage once again, with Capirossi and Bayliss at 204 and 203mph respectively. However, Honda has narrowed that speed advantage to about 1mph, with Valentino Rossi also exceeding 203mph on Phillip Island's long front straight.

Now for the REALLY wierd stuff: a.) Jeremy McWilliams qualified the new Proton KR V-5 in a solid 10th place, well ahead of several Yamahas, a pair of Hondas, both Aprilias, both Suzukis, and both Kawasakis. b.) Further upsetting the apple cart, Gary McCoy qualified the star crossed Kawasaki ZX-RR in 12th place, ahead of a pair of Yamahas, a pair of Hondas, both Aprilias, and both Suzukis. c.) Also suprising, but not TOO shocking, our man Nicky Hayden out qualified Max Biaggi and just missed a front-row start by ONE position!

Phillip Island has produced some of the closest and most exciting motorcycle racing battles ever. I sincerely hope this weekend's race lives up to the excitement level forecasted by these qualifying results.

Please click the "Read More" link to see the results table and Honda's extensive Press Release.

Final MotoGP Qualifying - Australia:
1. Valentino Rossi, Honda, 1:30.068
2. Loris Capirossi, Ducati, 1:30.496
3. Sete Gibernau, Honda, 1:30.676
4. Troy Bayliss, Ducati, 1:30.683
5. Nicky Hayden, Honda, 1:30.863
6. Max Biaggi, Honda, 1:30.993
7. Marco Melandri, Yamaha, 1:31.227
8. Tohru Ukawa, Honda, 1:31.280
9. Carlos Checa, Yamaha, 1:31.302
10. Jeremy McWilliams, Proton KR, 1:31.367
11. Shinya Nakano, Yamaha, 1:31.444
12. Gary McCoy, Kawasaki, 1:31.572
13. John Hopkins, Suzuki, 1:31.705
14. Kenny Roberts, Suzuki, 1:31.742
15. Olivier Jacque, Yamaha, 1:31.759
16. Alex Barros, Yamaha, 1:31.802
17. Makoto Tamada, Honda, 1:31.806
18. Colin Edwards, Aprilia, 1:31.938
19. Noriyuki Haga, Aprilia, 1:32.145
20. Nobuatsu Aoki, Proton, 1:32.460
21. Andrew Pitt, Kawasaki, 1:32.555
22. Ryuichi Kiyonari, Honda, 1:33.900
23. David De Gea, Harris WCM, 1:34.246
24. Chris Burns, Harris WCM, 1:34.858



Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island Final Qualifying Saturday October 18, 2003


Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V) rode to his eighth pole position of the season here at Phillip Island on the wild southern coast of Australia. In the sun and the refreshing sea breeze blowing off the Bass Strait, he set a 1m 30.068s lap that was to end up a full 0.42 seconds faster than anything his rivals could manage. Loris Capirossi and his Aussie team-mate Troy Bayliss put their Ducatis in second and fourth place respectively, while Sete Gibernau (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) qualified third.With second place overall in the MotoGP World Championship still left to fight for, Gibernau showed he still has the spirit for the struggle. After watching his title challenge, which looked so strong in the mid-part of the season, finally wither and die during these three ‘flyaway’ races which push riders, teams and machines to the absolute maximum, Gibernau still has the challenge of Max Biaggi (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) to fend off.

Gibernau seemed almost to ‘ghost’ to his third place on the grid. While most eyes were on Capirossi and Bayliss, who had headed the timesheets yesterday, until Rossi spoint the party with a last gasp 1m 30.632s lap. The red riders looked in good enough shape today to do further damage to Rossi’s time.

But they reckoned without Rossi’s canny approach to using qualifying tyres. At Sepang last week Rossi opted to fit the super-sticky Michelin rubber halfway through the final session. Here he pitted with ten minutes to go and fired in the 1m 30.068s time that looked in no danger of being bested. Riders were trying hard, but the clock showed the futility of their efforts.

“Our work here was good,” said the newly-crowned and now three times World Champion in the premier class. “We’ve got a good set-up and I think we’ll be able to get into a good rhythm. The race will be tough for sure. The Ducatis are going well, and of course so are the other Honda’s. I feel good without the pressure of the Championship.”

Gibernau, who crashed at the high-speed turn one yesterday, was happy with today. “We’ve worked towards race set-up and I’ve done enough laps on the race tyre to feel I can run at a good rhythm. I’ve felt a little dizzy today but positive about tomorrow. I’m starting from the front row and hopefully I can be back on the podium.”

Max was also in buoyant mood. “We haven’t made huge progress,” he said. “But we haven’t gone backwards either, which explains why today’s times are so similar to yesterday’s. We’ve made some improvements to the mapping of the engine, but the machine still slides a lot coming onto the main straight, but then again everyone is sliding there.”

Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) had another storming final qualifying session, but the American rookie sets high standards for himself. Most riders would be reasonably content with a grid slot in fifth at the front of the second row, but not Nicky.

“I really thought I could get on the front row today,” he said. “But I didn’t and that’s a bit of a bummer. But fifth is equal to my best this year, so I’m sort of happy. The session was good, I got into a good rhythm and then right at the end with the qualifying tyres I got a good first lap and then hit some traffic that messed me up.”

Tohru Ukawa (Camel Pramac Pons RC211V) starts from eight on row two and if the Japanese can get a good start (something he hasn’t quite managed all year) he feels optimistic. “I have to make the most of this grid position. All the bikes are sliding, so I’m not alone with that, and if I can latch onto the lead group I feel good about staying there.”

Things were not quite as good for Makoto Tamada (Pramac Honda RC211V) who qualified 17th. “We’ve chosen some tyres that will go the distance and I’m not worried at all about tomorrow. But if it decides to rain everything will be that much more complicated.”

Rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari (Telefonica Movistar Honda RC211V) had a wretched time at this demanding track and could only manage 22nd place. “Another difficult day for me,” he said. “I’m losing a lot of time in the braking zones of the track. It’s fast here and easy to make those sorts of errors.”

The grid for the penultimate round of the World 250cc Championship has made the title run-in a dangerous thing to predict with two of the main contenders for the title starting next to each other on the second row. Points leader Manuel Poggiali (Aprilia) and second-placed Roberto Rolfo (Fortuna Honda RS250RW) qualified seventh and eight respectively.

Tony Elias (Aprilia), the man who has clawed his way into title contention in the late stages of the season, lies on pole. The Spaniard is tied on points with Rolfo, and the second-placed pair are still within sight of Poggiali as the tension mounts and the pressure grows on the San Marinese points leader.

Porto held the pole for most of the two days of qualifying and it was only Elias’ last minute lap of 1m 33.771s that robbed Porto of his second pole of the season by eight hundredths of a second. Less than a second covers the first eight qualifiers, and if the pattern of recent races is anything to go, the rest of the field is unlikely to figure in events.

The rest of the front row shows that after Elias and Porto, Franco Battaini and Randy de Puniet managed to put their Aprilias third and fourth. Fonsi Nieto (Aprilia) heads row two in fifth and Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) is sixth. Wet weather specialist Naoki Matsudo (Yamaha) is ninth and if the forecast thunderstorms materialise tomorrow afternoon, he won’t be complaining.

“I tried my maximum over the two days,” said Porto. “Today Elias got the pole and maybe that’s okay. The important thing is my bike’s been really good here from day one and I want to thank the team for that. We don’t know what’s going to happen either with or without any changes in the weather, but I’m ready to race.”

“I think I’ve found the correct chassis and suspension settings,” said Rolfo. “I’ve improved my lap times and when we get the throttle response spot-on in tomorrow’s warm-up I think I should be okay for the race. I’ve just go to make sure I get a good start”

Without new World Champion Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Junior Team RS125R) in the session, Honda riders had it tough. Pedrosa is in a Melbourne hospital after crashing heavily at the Lukey Heights part of the circuit in yesterday morning’s free training session. The eighteen-year-old champ will spend a week there recuperating before flying back to Barcelona to begin a lengthy recovery process.

Pedrosa’s erstwhile rivals fought out the twenty session in typical fashion and it was this year’s big title rival Stefano Perugini (Aprilia) who eventually prevailed after a scrap with Alex de Angelis (Aprilia) who will line up next to the pole-sitter in second.

Mika Kallio continues The Austrian KTM factory’s end-of-season renaissance with a third place. Kallio gave the factory its first front row and followed that up with his and the factory’s first ever podium with a second place at Sepang in Malaysia last weekend.

Aussie hope Casey Stoner who crashed heavily at Sepang last weekend battled through to a fourth spot and the grid and a front row start. Andrea Dovisioso (Team Scot Honda RS125R) starts on the second row in eighth, while Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) was 12th in the final session. Veteran Masao Azuma (Ajo Motorsports Honda RS125R) was 17th.

“The bike is pretty much okay,” said Dovisioso. “The only slight problem I’ve got is at the front end when it won’t quite turn quick enough. And at a track like this you need to be able turn well at speed. But it’ll be something we can work on in the warm-up tomorrow.”

For Luthi the start is crucial. “This morning the bike was really good,” said the Swiss teenager. “And then this afternoon it was good too, but I couldn’t find anyone to draught. I came in for a new tyre, then went out again and hitched onto de Angelis to get my fastest time – but that was only lap. I’ve just got to get off the grid well tomorrow.”



Valentino Rossi , Repsol Honda Team, 1st: "Our work here is very good. We are very constant on the bike and feel good without the pressure of the championship. We've got a good set-up and it is possible to make a high rhythm. I am very happy with the pole position and a great lap time. The team works very well. The race will be tough tomorrow for sure. The Ducati's are going very well and there is much competition from other Honda's. For sure we have a great battle tomorrow. I hope we have no rain and we keep the good weather so it is possible to make a good show."

Sete Gibernau, Telefonica MoviStar Honda: 3rd: "Once more, together with the team, we have done a good job. After crashing yesterday and not completing all the work we had planned, we have made up for lost time. We have worked towards the race, focussing on the set-up of the bike and tyre choice. I completed a lot of laps on the race tyre and once I found a good rhythm and felt comfortable I put on a softer compound and set the third fastest time. I am feeling positive about tomorrow. I have been a little bit dizzy today and we have a couple of things to improve in the warm-up tomorrow morning, but I am starting from the front row and I am looking forward to the race. Hopefully I can be back on the podium".

Fausto Gresini, Team Manager: "Sete and the team have done a great job. We had to catch up after yesterday's crash and we have done that. Sete is still not 100% but hopefully tomorrow he will be completely recovered. We are starting from the front row, we have a good rhythm and I am sure that tomorrow we will enjoy another nice race, as we look to defend second place in the championship."

Nicky Hayden, Repsol Honda Team, 5th: "I really thought I could get on the front row today and I so nearly did - it's a bit of a bummer. Fifth, is equal to my best this year so I'm kinda' happy. The whole session was pretty good really. I got into a good rhythm. Right at the end with the qualifying tyres I got a good first lap but then hit some traffic that messed up the second run. No bother - the bike feels good, I'm happier round the last corner and tomorrow's when it counts. I just want to mix it at the front and see what happens."

Max Biaggi, Camel Pramac Pons, 6th: “We didn’t quite make a step forward today – but at least we didn’t go backwards. Sometimes it’s best to build on what you’ve got. I’m losing out in the first half section of the track, but it’s almost too late to work on that now. The race will be better because it will be run at a lower pace and I’m sure I can match that. It will be a case of getting a good start and running at the front, but the weather might change everything.”

Tohru Ukawa, Camel Pramac Pons: 8th : “My lap times were much improved from yesterday, and the second row should be okay. But if been on the second row before and not started well from there before – this time I’m going to make it count. The spinning-up problem has been helped by the engine-mapping changes we made, but everyone out there is suffering from the problem to some extent. I’ve got a pretty good race set-up but the forecast bad weather could make that irrelevant – we’ll have to see what happens.”

Makoto Tamada, Pramac Honda Team: 17th: "I can't say we've got everything perfectly right, but I am confident about tomorrow. Unlike the others, I didn't use soft tyres but concentrated entirely on the race configuration of the bike and this is why I didn't get a really fast time for the pole. But I think I'm able to set a good pace, even though tomorrow's race is going to be an uphill struggle as I'm starting back on row five. We've chosen some tyres that'll work well even over the entire distance of the race and this means I'm not at all worried about tomorrow. The real enigma is the weather: if it decides to rain, everything's going to be that much more complicated. We haven't ridden much in the wet and we really don't have that much experience."

Ryuichi Kiyonari, Telefonica MoviStar Honda: 22nd: " Another difficult day for me. I still need more confidence to be able to brake later because I am losing a lot of time in the two hard braking zones of the circuit. This is a fast circuit and it is easy to make these types of errors. For tomorrow I am hoping to make some more improvements in the warm-up and get a good start in the race".


Sebastián Porto, Telefonica MoviStar Jrn Team: "I am happy with the job we have done all weekend. The bike in general has worked perfectly both days. Yesterday I set provisional pole, so we knew which way to go. This morning we made a few changes and above all tried to complete as many laps as posible on a used tyre looking for a good race rhythm. In the afternoon session I was able to set a quick lap at the start and improve my time from yesterday. I could have gone even faster but the bike got out of shape in a hard braking zone and I lost my chance. I would have liked to have been on pole but I always knew it would be difficult because the Aprilias always put a soft tyre on at the end of the session. In any case, a front row start is important with the set-up we have for the race. If the rain forecast is correct it will be a shame because all the hard work we have put in will be wasted. We would only have the warm-up to find a set-up for the bike and the race would be a lottery. I would like to send a bi
g hug to my team-mate and friend Dani, and wish him a very quick recovery."

Roberto Rolfo, Fortuna Honda Team: 6th: “ In general if we find a small improvement in acceleration and I can get a good start we can fight with the leading group around the circuit. With two races to go in the series that will be very important and will allow me to fight with the parties interested in the championship.


Dani Pedrosa, Telefonica MoviStar Honda Jnr Team, dns: Newly crowned 125cc World Champion Dani Pedrosa crashed in the opening free practice session of Friday sustaining breaks in both legs. He has fracture of the inner malleolus on his right leg and two fractures on the left leg, the tibia and the astraagalus.
Pedrosa underwent four hours of surgery at the Alfred hospital in Melbourne. The practicing surgeon Dr Etwood commented that the operation had been a success.
Dani will be kept under observation before being transferred to a ward. He had a trouble free night and is now resting ready to begin his recovery.

Andrea Dovizioso, Scot Honda, 8th: “I’m feeling OK with the bike but I had a small front end problem which is preventing me getting into the corners the way I need to. I just can’t hold my line. I also geared the bike too short, which doesn’t help round here. They are things we can fix before the warm up tomorrow.”

Thomas Luthi, Elit Honda, 12th: “This morning the bike was really good and I was looking forward to qualifying. But when I got out there I couldn’t find anybody to work with. With 15-minutes to go I came in fitted a new rear tyre and went out looking for a fast guy. Only at the final lap did I see De Angelis about 200 meters ahead of me so I gave maximum to try and close the gap and set my fastest time. A pity, because if I had found a fast man I could have been higher up the grid. I will need a fast start tomorrow.”

Masao Azuma, Ajo Motorsports Honda, 17th: “The suspension and tyres are good and the chassis is near perfect. My problem today was the engine. The good engine we used in Malaysia broke in Friday’s practice and the one we put in today is just not fast enough. It feels tight, even stressed. In qualifying I was with the big group but could not stay with them on acceleration. If we don’t find a solution for the engine problem I will not get a good result tomorrow. .

Simone Corsi, Scot Honda, dns: Simone Corsi crashed in Malaysia and injured his left thigh. He tested in Friday opening session but he was far from comfortable and wisely decided not to take his Scot Honda out in final qualifying.
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