Final Qualifying at Assen

Calvin Kim
by Calvin Kim
From Honda Racing News:

Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RCV211V) took his sixth pole position of the year, courtesy of his first session time, 2:01.691, set on Thursday. Lingering damp track conditions during the final MotoGP qualifying session made it a tentative start for most of the 21-strong entry when pit lane opened today. A subsequent mid-session rain shower negated the chances of any of the riders improving their times, with persistent wet sections spoiling an otherwise rapidly drying track surface.

Rossi was satisfied with his Thursday pole time, set on his very last lap; a time that deprived Yamaha rider Max Biaggi from the chance of taking consecutive pole position starts. "It proved to be that the last lap from yesterday was the pole position time and that makes me happy," said Rossi, the clear World Championship leader. "I am not so happy about the set-up of the bike and we needed today's sessions to be dry to give us more practice time. We also have some setting problems in the wet, so I am hoping for sunshine tomorrow anyway. We will have to see what the weather is like but I'm sure that it will be very difficult, in wet or dry conditions."



Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) took the third fastest time. Fourth place Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) joined Rossi on the front row for the 19-lap race on Saturday, delayed until 15.30 because of the kick-off times in the World Cup soccer competition. "Yesterday we had a good qualifying session and set a fast lap time in the dry," reaffirmed Capirossi. "I think that comparing the two-strokes against the four-strokes is not so bad here. We are better than in Mugello or Barcelona. Maybe this track is the one we will be closest to the four-strokes all year, and it will be possible to have a good result tomorrow."

Three Honda riders qualified in second row positions, the first of them fifth-placed Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500), who was particularly rueful, after missing out on more than just a front row grid placing. "Right from the start the bike has adapted well to this circuit, using the settings from last year. We have changed the gear change ratio, since the modifications to the circuit have neutralised the differences with the four-strokes. I am of course a little disappointed because I held the pole position for most of the first session. All our plans for today have been laid to waste by the rain. I have not been able to test the things I wanted to."

Seventh overall came the ever-improving Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) "Today has been useless," he stated. "The weather conditions changed every minute and at the end we were unable to ride with wet or dry conditions as well. I don't like racing under the rain and it's difficult to find the right set-up for the bike. I feel more confident with a dry track when my shoulder is not aching a lot."

The second Honda vee five four-stroke in the race put Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RCV211V) eighth, after a fraught qualifying. "A pretty disappointing day really," said the disgruntled Ukawa. "The weather conditions made it very difficult for us this afternoon and we had a little problem with the power-shift on the bike this morning, although we luckily didn't lose too much track time. Second row of the grid isn't a real problem, I've made some good starts this season and I'll have to make another one tomorrow."

Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500 had a somewhat disappointing qualification on his home circuit, after being as high as eighth on the opening day. A cruising rider slowed his progress during his best lap, causing him to return to the pits for new tyres, and ultimately relegating him to a lowly 15th. "I didn't have two laps left on the set of tyres I had on the bike," said van den Goorbergh of his opening day at Assen. "We changed them but after one lap I was out of fuel as I went over the start/finish line. These things happen. It's frustrating because I knew I could have improved my lap time today if it was dry and the Bridgestone's have been very good. The modifications to the track make it harder to overtake so, realistically, if I could get into the top ten coming from a 15th place start, we would think of it as a good result. In the wet we may have an even better chance of an improved finish."

Daijiro Katoh (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500) experienced problems with the ever-changing weather conditions, finishing 17th. "The rain bothered me and I couldn't try. One half of the track would be wet and the other half would be dry," said a frustrated Japanese. "Tomorrow I prefer top have safe conditions, either fully wet or fully dry, but not in between. Anyway, I don't like racing in the rain!"

The inclement second day weather caught out many of the top riders who were hoping to improve in their first day times, with the eventual 250 grid being a mirror image of Friday qualifying. Marco Melandri (Aprilia) led four Aprilias on top of the time sheets. The net result was that top Honda qualifier proved to be Haruchika Aoki (Arie Molenaar Racing Honda RS250R/W) in 15th place on his 'evolution' machine, one position ahead of his team-mate Jarno Janssen.

Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) and his fellow Fortuna Honda pilot Emilio Alzamora slotted in 17th and 18th respectively, after a tough first day of competition. Each was prevented from making the required improvements during the second day due to the poor weather. "I think positively," said Rolfo. "I think we have a good set-up for the conditions, it's just a pity that we have to have the same qualifying time as yesterday. I shall have to give it all tomorrow for the race, right from the start. No strategy, no tactics, just open the gas and go."

Alzamora was equally bullish in his attitude to the job in hand. "There is no sense blaming the weather. I think in wet conditions we will have a good set-up anyway. We have to be positive."

Spanish teenager Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jnr Team Honda RS125R) took pole at Assen thanks to his Thursday first session qualifying best of 2:11.882, achieved in fully dry conditions. Pedrosa's lap stands as the new best qualifying mark on the altered Assen circuit. A violent rain shower at the very beginning of the final session prevented any of the 35 Assen qualifiers from improving their opening day accounts.

"Getting pole makes me happy but we've always said that it's the race that is important," said Pedrosa. "I am satisfied because I have quickly settled down and felt comfortable with the bike at this circuit. I love the nature and character of Assen, with the fast back and forth sweeps and the new asphalt has more grip than before. What is clear that there can be no tactics tomorrow, because it is impossible to anticipate what conditions will be."

A fine showing from Finn Mika Kallio (Red Devil Honda RS125R) gave him a front row start, in fourth place, at one of the most challenging circuits of the year. Pedrosa's team-mate, Joan Olive scored a 12th place time, for a third row start, after some early problems with set-up. Fifteen of the top 35 riders are Honda mounted for the 17-lap race, which will be flagged off at 12.45.

Honda Team Quotes:

Valentino Rossi, Repsol Honda Team, 1st :
"I'm happy with the last lap yesterday to take pole position. This morning was wet and this afternoon was really for nothing, we lost half the session. We go into the race tomorrow very unsure of the machine's set-up. It only just started been really difficult. Tomorrow I prefer dry conditions, here you never know"

Loris Capirossi, West Honda Pons, 4th:
"It has been a difficult practice session because the track was neither dry nor wet. In these conditions it is impossible to work on the bike's setting so we have only completed a few laps. This session has really been a waste of time. At least in the morning we were able to work in wet conditions but I do hope that race is run in dry conditions. A dry race will be far more exciting, especially as we were very competitive in yesterday's dry sessions."

Alex Barros, West Honda Pons, 5th:
"All our plans for today have been laid to waste with the rain. I have not been able to try any of the things I had planned to do. If the race is dry then I think we are well prepared. If it is wet then we still need to try out a few more things. In any case, we are in the hands of the gods now and we must adapt to anything they throw our way."

Antonio Cobas:
"The changing track conditions, with wet and dry areas, have made it practically impossible to try out anything, not even tyres. The session really has been an waste of time."

Sito Pons:
"It is a shame that the weather has been so bad as we have virtually lost a whole day. Only a small part of the morning's session in wet conditions has been productive, but I think we have found some good settings for both wet and dry conditions."

Tetsuya Harada, Pramac Honda Racing Team, 7th:
"Today has been useless. The weather conditions changed every minute and at the end we were unable to ride with wet or dry conditions as well. I do not like racing under the rain and it's difficult to find the right set-up for the bike. I feel more confident with the dry track and the shoulder does not ache a lot."

Tohru Ukawa, Repsol Honda Team, 8th:
"A pretty frustrating day really. The weather has made it really difficult this afternoon and we had a little problem with the power-shift on the bike this morning, although we luckily didn't lose too much track time. Second row of the grid isn't a real problem. I've made some good starts this season and will have to make another one tomorrow. Tyre choice will be critical for the race something we don't have a lot ofinformation about."

Jurgen van den Goorbergh, Kanemoto Racing, 15th:
"I was very confident in the wet but I had hoped for a dry final qualifyingsession as I did not get a good time in the dry session yesterday, I'm only15th on the grid. We had a couple of rear tyres to try in the dry so I haveto hope for a wet race as everything points to us having a good race if itrains. The four-strokes have a good power delivery and that should helpthem in the wet. But I was fastest two-stroke for a while in the heavy raintoday. I need a good start in any conditions, particularly the wet as thereis a lot of spray thrown up at this track which makes it difficult to seewhere you are going, if you are behind a group of riders. If I can make upa few places at the first two corners in a dry race we will be OK."

Daijiro Kato, Fortuna Honda Gresini, 17th:
"The rain bothered me and I couldn't try: in today's situation one part of the track was dry the other parts wet. Tomorrow I'd prefer a safe condition to race in: wet or dry but not in between! Anyway I don't like a wet track."

250cc:

Roberto Rolfo, Fortuna Honda Gresini, 17th:
"I think positively: if it rains tomorrow I have a bike with the right set-up and which is really competitive. Unluckily I have the same time as yesterday. Tomorrow I try to start at maximum and try to gain positions. No strategy, no tactics: open gas and go!"

Emilio Alzamora, Fortuna Honda Gresini, 18th:
"It's a real pity that this rainy day robbed me of the chance to improve on my time of yesterday. We worked really hard and really well to find the right balance in rain conditions. It's not necessary to complain, we had to think positively: tomorrow I start from the back, so I have to do my best to earn a good position, quickly."

Fausto Gresini:
We worry about the rain because we start from far back on the grid. If it rans tomorrow there will be a lot of room to achive a miracle. I asked my riders only to concentrate and give their best: maybe they can have a good result.

125cc:

Daniel Pedrosa, Telefonica Moviestar Jnr Team, 1st:
"Getting pole makes me happy but we've always said that it's the race that is important. If it rains, bad luck. We'll do what we can, trying to pick up the pace as soon as possible. I have always felt more comfortable in dry conditions, but I won't upset myself if it rains. What is clear is that there can be no tactics for tomorrow, because it is impossible to anticipate what race conditions will be. We're prepared for anything, wet or dry."

Mika Kallio, Red Devil Honda Team, 4th:
"I'm very happy with my front row start, my previous best was 10th. This is a real bonus for me. The last Finn on the front row was Taru Rine, in 1989! My bike is running well and I have no problems going into the race. But I hope it's dry, as I'm better in the dry than the wet. There is more interest in MotoGP in Finland than for some time and we have several good riders coming through, so the future is bright."

Joan Olive, Telefonica Moviestar Jnr Team, 12th:
"The rain prevented us from continuing with our planned programme. It's a pity, because I was convinced I would improve my time and grid position. We decided to ride as much as we could in the wet, just in case it rains again tomorrow. This is a circuit where it is possible to ride quickly in the wet. You have to ride very smoothly, and take advantage of the road camber, which also means that the water drains off the surface very quickly. In any case, I have no preference for tomorrow. Whatever comes is okay."

Masao Azuma, Tribe by Breil Honda, 13th:
"The weather! That's my problem. I tried to get in a fast lap before the rain came in the last session but I only got in one lap before it started. I had my spare bike set-up for the wet but it was not as good as my number one bike in the dry. Still, we have the warm-up to check-out the changes we have had to make for both sets of conditions"

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