Rossi and the 4-stroke on Pole

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
From Honda press:
Honda riders dominated this afternoon's enthralling opening qualifyingsession of GP racing's new technology era, filling the first threepositions on the MotoGP grid, with the factory's fabulously exotic RC211VV5 four-stroke taking pole position in the hands of reigning champValentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V), who won last year's Japanese500 GP, Honda's 500th GP victory. Today the Italian superstar just beat NSRtwo-stroke rider Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) to pole, provingthat four-stroke or two-stroke, Honda have got the speed. And wild cardrider Shinichi Itoh (Team HRC RC211V), who hasn't even raced for a year,was third quickest, underlining the RCV's incredible potential...

But pole didn't come too easy for Rossi, who this morning suffered hissecond tumble of the weekend. The Italian youngster ran too wide on theentry to Degner 2 and went down heavily, adding to the bruises sustained ina high-speed crash during yesterday's opening practice session. Today'saccident badly damaged one of his RCV's leaving him restricted to onemachine for the afternoon's all-important final qualifier.

"The last two days have been difficult," said Rossi, who suffered moresevere cuts and bruises in yesterday's 193kmh get-off. "I have to thank DrCosta for helping me to get back into shape. This afternoon's session wasgood. We were all pushing really hard and I'm very pleased to be startingfrom pole. The lap times we're doing are incredible and show that all thework we've done over the winter is paying off. But everyone is so fasthere, with the four-strokes and two-strokes very close together, that thewinter tests are going to feel like a holiday compared to the racing!"

During the winter Capirossi had been worried by Rossi's ultra-quick testingpace but today confirmed that his latest-spec NSR500 is still a weaponcapable of victory. "To be honest, one month ago I'd never imaginedstarting the season like this, although I know very well that practice isone thing and racing is something very different," he said. "I'm very happywith today's result, the bike is beautifully balanced and runningperfectly."

HRC test rider Itoh, who just outpaced Carlos Checa (Yamaha), was anotherrider surprised by his own performance. "I never expected to make the front row, so I'm very excited, although I expect the race to be much morefrantic!" said the former Japanese champion who hasn't raced since lastyear's World Superbike round at Sugo. "I have a lot of experience with thisbike and at this track. The RCV is running very well and the tyres I chosewere perfect for today's conditions."

Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500) came within 0.041 seconds ofstarting his debut MotoGP race from the front row, ending the session justbehind Max Biaggi (Yamaha) and two tenths ahead of Akira Ryo (Suzuki). "Myfastest lap was ruined by a gust of wind, I think I was heading for polethat lap," said the reigning 250 champ who ran off into a gravel trap afterbeing blown off course. "I must say I never expected the competition to beso intense in MotoGP but I'm looking forward to my first race on theNSR500. We have good tyres and I think I can challenge up front."

1. V. Rossi (Honda) 2'04.226,2. L. Capirossi (Honda) + 0.183,3. S. Itoh (Honda) + 0.209,4. C. Checa (Yamaha) + 0.224,5. M. Biaggi (Yamaha) + 0.230,6. D. Katoh (Honda) + 0.265,7. A. Ryo (Suzuki) + 0.520,8. O. Jacque (Yamaha) + 0.727,9. S. Nakano (Yamaha) + 0 872,10. KENNY ROBERTS (TELIFONICA MOVISTAR SUZUKI) +10.896.
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