Honda Hat-Trick for MotoGP Pole

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Saturday, April 20, 2002 - Gwenyth King:

Rossi edged out Capirossi and Ukawa at the end of this afternoon's thrilling final qualifier with a sizzling 1'34.660 lap. Valentino outpaced Loris by a mere 0.032 seconds in a red-hot qualifying practice that was fast and furious with grid-positions swapping countless times as the new breed of MotoGP four-strokes continued their enthralling battle with the established 500 two-strokes. Capirossi's Honda NSR500 is the only two-stroke on the front grid sandwiched between the two Honda RC211V's of Rossi in front of him and Ukawa behind. Biaggi makes up the fourth on his Yamaha YZR-M1 just 0.404 seconds off pole.

Sunday's Africa's GP promises to be particularly fascinating as just over one second covers the top 11 places on the grid. Welkom is tougher on tyres than any other GP track. This will therefore be a great opportunity to compare how four-stroke and two-stroke tyre wear compares on the hot Phakisa circuit.

"We have made some improvements in stability and braking. The time was not better than last year. The difference between 2-strokes and 4-strokes is not so big. I have a good rhythm but the start is very important." said World Championship leader, Valentino Rossi.

Capirossi eases out Ukawa for second spot.

Capirossi was almost high sided as he pushed for faster lap times, but after a brief ride on the grass was able to get back on the track . He wasn't the only one however, as Rossi also took a detour off the track in the 35th minute of qualifying but still managed to maintain his lead on pole. "Everybody pushed 100 percent in the last ten minutes of qualifying." Said Capirossi who admitted that overtaking is going to be difficult "the outside of the track is very dirty." With only two minutes to go, Capirossi made his final bid and eased Ukawa out of second spot.

Tohru Ukawa rode a creditable qualifier to take third on pole, in front of Max Biaggi, making the 1,2,3 for Honda. Ukawa looked comfortable on his 2-stroke Honda RCV, putting in the best speed of 269.3 Ukawa, who has been very involved in the development of his 2-stroke Honda was happy with his grid position after crashing in Suzuka.

Max Biaggi, Rossi's arch rival from last year said that he was "..very happy to be in the front row." Biaggi admitted that he was still finding his rhythm on the bike after some overnight improvements had been made. In the final five minutes of qualifying time, Biaggi made 4th position in front of Garry McCoy. His challenge for the third spot didn't quite make it.

Injured Garry McCoy secures fifth place on the second row of the grid.

Garry McCoy secured what must be a satisfying fifth place on the grid, despite the injury to his ankle. "I'm feeling a lot stronger and I'm just going to try and get some points tomorrow. I got behind Max Biaggi for a couple of laps and got a good chance to compare Yamaha's two and four-stroke bikes. At this track, I don't think Max was making any ground on me, which is encouraging."

Aprilia's dominate 250cc class

Champion Marco Melandri was beaten on his Aprilia into second place on the grid by Battaini who described himself as; "...the man of Saturday. Tomorrow I am convinced to be able to play for the podium. The motorbike is ok and I drive very well. I will fight up to the end and I don't feel I have anything less than the others."

Roberto Rolfo starts from 3rd on the grid and was very happy with his second ride on the Honda. "I had problems with the settings during winter testing but it is getting better and better."

There are some serious challengers for the crown vacated by Daijiro Katoh. Melandri, Battaini and Rolfo are just a few. Fonsi Nieto, Roberto Locatelli and Alex Debon, just outside this circle should not be discounted. Marco Melandri especially stands a good chance of winning tomorrow's race if his team can get the settings and tyres right.

Randy de Puniet put in an impressive performance to close a 2.3 second gap and earn his 4th place on the grid. "My bike was effectively broken down yesterday, so today is really the first day of testing."

Rookie, Casey Stoner did well to secure 8th on the grid for tomorrow's 250cc race. At just 16-years-old he becomes the youngest ever rider to qualify in the top 8 for a 250cc Grand Prix.

125 Young Guns shoot it out

Sixteen year old Dani Pedrosa showed his youthful exuberance during today's qualifying time and snatched pole position - his second consecutive - from title-holder Manuel Pogialli. Pablo Nieto put in a fast lap to land him third place on the grid. Youchi Ui had a dismal second qualifier and ended way down the field in 17th after falling in the final stages of the qualifier.

It remains to be seen whether the inexperienced Pedrosa can maintain his performance during the race or whether he'll succumb to the pressure which Poggiali will undoubtedly put upon the youngster ...

Emilio Azuma's fall in the last minutes of qualifying led to the session being red flagged due to debris on the track which was cleared by the marshalls. Team manager Fausto Gresini said "I don't worry about Emilio, he is a fighter."

Riders went out to complete the remaining qualifying time but were red flagged again due to oil on the track and returned to pit lane with just over one minute remaining on the clock. This confusion cost the organiser (Race Makers, RSA) a fine of 10,000 Swiss Francs for withdrawing the red flag from the pit lane exit while the pit lane exit was still closed.

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