Le Mans Qualifying Times

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
The mercurial Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RCV211V) had to fight hardfor his fourth pole position in a row, but a storming 1m 36.046s lap oneminute from the end of this pulsating session secured him his 18th careerpole position for tomorrow's race. Rossi and team-mate Tohru Ukawa , whoqualified fourth, both start on the front row with Carlos Checa and MaxBiaggi (Yamaha) splitting the two RC211Vs in second and third. Less thanone second covers the first fifteen riders.

Today's fierce fight for pole started mid-session with Loris Capirossi(West Honda Pons NSR500) making the early running and eventually qualifyingseventh. It intensified in the final ten minutes where a ding-dong battlebetween Rossi and Carlos Checa (Yamaha) brought the session to fever pitch.Pole position swapped hands four times before Rossi clinched it on his 24thlap of the session. Rossi and Checa finished every session in the top twoplaces.

"This was a very hard battle," he said. "I've now achieved four poles in arow, which I've never done before, but this was harder than ever. Towardsthe end of the session I went with a soft tyre and put in a 1m 36.1s lapwhich was enough for me to get a P2 board, so I tried again and made aneven better lap even with quite a lot of wheelspin. Tomorrow will be a veryhard fight for the race." Rossi has not yet won at Le Mans (in any class),but is under no illusions about how hard he will have to work hard to putthis right. "It's going to be very close, very difficult and very good forthe fans."

Ukawa celebrated his 29th birthday today with a front row start at thetrack where he scored his first ever Grand Prix win on a 250 in 2000, butthen crashed out of last year's MotoGP race. "I'm really happy to be on thefront row after I qualified 12th on the NSR500 last year," he said. "Thebike set-up was much better this afternoon but I still have a slightlyvague feeling from it. But the changes we made in set-up from this morningwith tyres and suspension have all helped. I'm not really very keen on thistrack but tomorrow I'll be ready to race."

Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda Team: Pole position:

"That was a hard battle.I went for a softer tyre half way through the session and went really hard.I saw P2 on the board after the fast lap so I knew I had to try anothertime even though the tyre was sliding a lot. I am very happy with pole.This is my fourth in a row. I have never done that before in my career. Itwill be a hard fight for the race tomorrow. Yamaha have improved a lot."

Erv Kanemoto, team owner - manager:

"We've said it a few times this yearbut I say it again, trying to find a good match between tyres andsuspension is our biggest difficulty. We also had bike problem today;Jurgen had a problem with the gear shifter on the number one bike in thatsession. We need to sort out a better suspension set-up overnight. Sometimes we have no chatter with this set-up, here we have it. I know we haveto work out a compromise, we'll come up with something to try in thewarm-up. At times the combination we have works, sometimes not. Thedifference in track temperature from day to day is a problem. The warm-upwill be important, I hope it's dry. That will be decision time. This trackis difficult for everybody with the grip changes, so we have to find thatcompromise, that's what we're working at but haven't found one yet."

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