Newly crowned 2011 MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner stormed to his 12th pole position of the 18-race season today at the Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo Circuit near Valencia, Spain, equaling the premier-class record set by five-time 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan in 1997. At the other end of the grid, 4.181 seconds back in 16th position, two-time AMA Pro American SuperBike Champion Josh Hayes got his first taste of an 800cc Grand Prix prototype fitted with Brembo carbon-carbon front brakes and Bridgestone slicks.
“I’m not happy about P16,” admitted Hayes. “The team has reassured me that I’m doing better than they expected. They expected me to be 3 seconds slower than Katsuyuki Nakasuga [Yamaha test rider and stand-in for injured Jorge Lorenzo this weekend], not within a tenth of a second of him. That’s great, but I don’t like being last.”
Hayes was just 1.6 seconds behind his Tech 3 Yamaha teammate, Cal Crutchlow, who qualified 11th for Sunday’s race and is battling with Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham for MotoGP rookie-of-the-year honors.
“[Team Director] Hervé [Poncheral] told me that Carlos Checa raced a Pramac Ducati at Valencia last year, and he got lapped. He’s the World Superbike champion this year. So, that’s what I’m up against.”
Morning practice was dry, but afternoon qualifying took place in mixed conditions. “Three times during that session,” said Hayes, “we got pretty good rain—big drops. In AMA Pro Road Racing, we don’t touch paint lines when it’s wet; this paint’s okay. I wasn’t sure how much rain was on the track or how well the Bridgestone slicks handle moisture.
“I’d been told that if you don’t put a lot of force into the tires, you can’t keep enough heat in them to work. So, I was trying to push really hard to keep the heat in the tires, but I wasn’t sure how much was too much with the moisture hitting the track.”
Hayes now has four practice sessions and nearly 100 laps of the track under his belt, but he’s still facing a near-vertical learning curve. This morning, he struggled with the right-left chicane that leads to the long, left-hand second-to-last corner.
“The bike doesn’t turn the way I expected it would turn,” he said. “On my SuperBike, with the way that bike transfers weight, I can fix problems by just moving around on the motorcycle. I don’t know how to do that on this bike.
“I talked to the guys about it, and they put in a completely different setting for qualifying. If we changed my R1 that much, I could tell you what those changes did to the machine. This still felt like an M1. I don’t have enough experience with the motorcycle to understand how to get the most out of those changes.”
Conversely, Hayes says, the electronics have been relatively easy to sort out. “Traction control, wheelie control,” he said, “I can feel that immediately.”
Hayes completed most of his laps today on the soft Bridgestones. His last laps, which were also his best laps, were done on the hard front and soft rear. “Before they put on that front tire, I missed a lot of apexes. [With the harder tire] I was more confident to trail-brake and hit those apexes.”
Speaking of brakes, Hayes doesn’t know what to expect from the carbon-carbon Brembos. “I want to look at some data from last year to see how these guys approach the first lap of the race. Twice, I stopped to do practice starts. Both times, in the first and second turns, I didn’t have any brakes; the performance changed that quickly. Then, all of a sudden, it was like somebody flipped a switch. I almost flew over the handlebars! So, I’m trying to understand how this stuff works. The last thing I want is to be a bowling ball in MotoGP.
“Also, I’ve gone out three times on a new Bridgestone rear tire. Everybody has driven home how scary they can be on the first three laps, so between the brakes and the tires, I’m quite nervous about the race tomorrow.
“I don’t want to waste the first two or three laps, or even the first two or three corners, and let these guys get so far away from me that I never have an opportunity to learn from any of them.”