Final Qualifying From Cinzano Rio GP, Brazil

Calvin Kim
by Calvin Kim
From Honda Racing Information

Rossi Takes Front Row Start at Rio

A wide variety of machinery and riders vied for front row qualifying positions at the 4,933m Nelson Piquet circuit in Rio, with championship leader Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) missing out on pole by a matter of only 0.259 seconds.

A thrilling final hour saw fortunes ebb and flow as the air and track temperatures cooled, necessitating a rethink from all the teams in terms of machine set-up and tyre choices. The grippier track and denser air allowed for some dramatic reductions in lap times for all 20 riders in the MotoGP class, with all the previous qualifying records broken and frequent changes of rider position being the norm.

Rossi's front row start is an almost perfect launch-pad for his attempt to win the inaugural four-stroke MotoGP championship before leaving Rio - a feat he can achieve if he finishes eleven points ahead of his team mate Tohru Ukawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V). Acknowledging that the championship battle takes precedent over the individual race result this weekend, Rossi was defiant about going for the best possible finish.

"We are here to get the best result we can and for sure to try to win," said Rossi after a fraught session of intense competition. "On this track, however, we have had some problems. The set-up is not 100% but at least now I can ride the bike. It's not so bad. We tried out a new tyre and it seemed to work well. The race is another story and I hope we do not get caught out tomorrow with some bad weather."

Qualifying was headed by Max Biaggi's four-stroke Yamaha, with Jeremy McWilliams' three-cylinder Proton KR and Garry McCoy's two-stroke Yamaha filling the front row positions behind Rossi.

Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini RC211V) was the second best Honda finisher, in sixth, taking his four-stroke to the second row after spending most of the second timed session challenging for pole.

"Today is better than yesterday and we solved a lot of problems," said the reigning 250 World Champion. "It is very difficult to find a good set-up at such a bumpy track anyway, but I have a good feeling for the bike now. I am hopeful for the race tomorrow."

Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500) took a second row start after using the changing track conditions to his advantage, eventually going eight fastest overall.

"We have been qualifying better in the last couple of races and we have had better compounds and so on available for the tyres," affirmed the Dutch rider. "But more importantly we have been doing a good number of 1'52 second laps with race tyres. The conditions this afternoon were a big help to all of us I think. The cooler air temperatures increased the engine power a lot, and the lower track temperature helped us with grip - it made an enormous difference. Only the weather can ruin things now if it starts to rain tomorrow."

Tohru Ukawa, the only man who can halt the Rossi juggernaut, was just off the second row in qualifying, ninth overall, after a tough final afternoon of practice.

"I was hoping to have a repeat of last year when we started off not so good on the first day but went better on the second day," said a somewhat disappointed Ukawa. "We went in a good direction with set-up this morning but we could not carry it forward to the afternoon. The feeling at the rear of the machine is not so good and it still feels a little unstable. I will have to make a good start tomorrow to keep in touch with the leaders."

Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) was stranded in the midfield in 12th, after losing out on some valuable practice time.

"I've really only been able to make good use of one of the practice sessions and if you take into consideration that I have only ridden for one hour then I should be quite satisfied with the time," quoted Capirossi after qualifying. "But obviously, I am not happy to be in 12th position. We had many problems throughout the session and we only really resolved them at the end, when we were running out of time. Looking at the situation realistically I think we could have finished on the front row."

Alex Barros (West Honda Pons NSR500) could not repeat his excellent first day form at his own home track, and had to settle for a lowly 15th place.

"We are in the same situation as last year," stated Barros. "I found good rhythm but I did not manage to put in one really quick lap to put me higher up the grid. Obviously I cannot be satisfied with my performance and I hope to be much higher up in the race. There is a high risk of rain for the race, and it is much easier to make up positions in the wet."

Tetsuya Harada (Pramac Honda NSR500) went 19th on his two-stroke machine, praising the speed of his machine but fighting against grip problems on his two-stroke.

"Today the bike feels quite fast but we are still having problems with the tyres, because after a few laps the bike starts to slip," said a resigned Harada. "I think the race will be very hard in these conditions."


Robby Rolfo (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) will start the 22-lap 250cc Rio GP race from ninth place; his team-mate Emilio Alzamora (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR250) from 11th, after a tough weekend of work for both riders. Rolfo had a particularly challenging first day, but made some progress on day two and finished top Honda qualifier overall.

"Yesterday I had the 'flu and no feeling for the bike but today we are going in the right direction," said Rolfo, who continued, "Even after that, I still have a problem of feeling from the front end of the machine. After my penalty for 'jump starting' at Estoril I will start the race after all the other riders this time!"

Alzamora's set-up difficulties concerned the opposite end of the machine from his team-mate Rolfo's.

"I have not enough rear grip exiting corners," stated Alzamora. "For the race tomorrow I must make a very aggressive start, to try and get to the front group."

Jason Vincent (By Queroseno Racing Honda RS250R/W) finished practice the quickest of the Honda private riders, in 16th place. His team-mate Leon Haslam was one place (albeit a whole row) behind in 17th, with the evolution machine of Haruchika Aoki (DeGraaf Grand Prix Team Honda RS250R/W) 19th.


A frustrating day for Daniel Pedrosa (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) saw him almost one second away from the pole position time in the 125 class, and take the final starting spot on the second row of the grid for the 21-lap race.

"We have the same suspension problems as at Estoril," explained the young Spaniard. "We don't know the reason but the fact is that we do not have any grip when I open the throttle coming out of turns. Nevertheless, I think I will be able to maintain the pace of the race if, as I expect, it will be run in the 1'59s, with a big front group fighting it out. What I have clear is that I have to take maximum risks, because if the bike doesn't improve, then the difference has to come from me."

Joan Olive (Telefonica Movistar Jr Team Honda RS125R) battled his way to the 16th fastest time over two days of qualifying, with a highly unusual problem afflicting his final 30 minutes of timed practice.

"My position in qualifying was improving as expected, to the point that I was in a provisional seventh position," said a rueful Olive. "But when I was trying hard on my best lap I suffered a little seizure. I got the clutch in and the piston freed up again - but then I was worried that a similar problem would arise again. Tomorrow we will see what happens with the weather. Last year I was able to finish fourth in the wet."

Due to the problems Pedrosa and Olive the best Honda qualifier proved to be Hungarian rider Gabor Talmacsi (PEV Moto ADAC Sachsen Honda RS125R), who was only demoted to third place on the grid after the very last laps of Manuel Poggiali and Arnaud Vincent. Mika Kallio (Red Devil Honda RS125R) was inside the top ten, in ninth place.

Get in your Inbox
Calvin Kim
Calvin Kim

More by Calvin Kim

Join the conversation