MotoGP Motegi Japan qualifying results: Dovizioso gets first pole

Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso steps up to fill void left by Pedrosa; Spies fifth, Edwards sixth, Hayden 11th

Andrea Dovizioso

MOTEGI, JAPAN, OCT 2 – Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso couldn’t have picked a better time to have his best ever qualifying performance. With teammate Dani Pedrosa back in Spain and about to undergo surgery for his fractured left collarbone, Dovizioso had his best day in MotoGP qualifying, speeding to his first ever pole position on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit north of Tokyo.

Dovizioso is such a notoriously slow qualifier that he’d only ever been on the front row once before, at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. But he was strong throughout the hour, first taking the top spot near the mid-point, on race tires, and later clocking a number of fast laps on the softer Bridgestone rear tire.

Dovi lost the spot to Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo for about 15 minutes, then regained it with 13 minutes to run.

As this was happening, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner found speed at the end of the session by making a geometry change and went from fifth fastest to the pole with just over six minutes to run. Then, about 23 seconds later, Dovi lowered the mark again, and he’d need every tenth.

There were still nearly six minutes to go and he was vulnerable to attack. But no one was able to challenge the Italian and he had his first pole at the race track owned by Honda.

"I'm so happy and surprised about this practice," Dovizioso said. "We start very well from yesterday, but I thought I can't go under '47, but we work really hard and so happy about the bike. We improve a lot, also with the electronic system we improve the anti-wheelie. I'm so happy about the bike. The power is so strong. So I think we have a really good pace for the race, because normally my style is to don't go too fast in the practice, so I think we can make a good race."

Though Dovi wasn’t under attack, others were, including Lorenzo. Using the new power-up motor, and not feeling any pain in his damaged right shoulder, Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi knocked teammate Jorge Lorenzo back to the second row with a very late lap of 1:47.055 mins. Even though Dovi had the pole, the session wasn't over. After time had expired, Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi lapped within .054 secs. of Dovizioso to finish second. It was his first front row start since he was on the pole in Le Mans on May 22. Rossi broke his leg at Mugello in the next race and hadn’t been among the top three since.

"Yes, is first a technical difference, because we improve a lot the setting of our bike," Rossi said. "And the new engine from Yamaha push more, so we are also faster on the straight.” Stoner clocked the fastest trap speed, but Lorenzo, who also had the new motor, was second and Rossi third. “And also here we have a harder tire compared to Aragon, because for me in Aragon also the hard was too soft, so I was a little bit in trouble.

"But about the shoulder, I expect to suffer a lot more, because here have a lot of hard braking. But also from yesterday afternoon I feel quite good. When I brake from straight I don't have a lot of pain, so I can push.”

Stoner finished third after a session in which he spent considerable time in the pits trying to find a solution for a number of handling issues. The team had made a breakthrough in Aragon by changing the geometry, but those settings didn’t work at Motegi, a track of very different characteristics. So he spent the hour consulting with his crew until they finally hit on a solution very late. The work paid off as he clocked the third fastest time of 1:47.464 mins.

"Definitely, we started out with something very similar to Aragon and we're still using the general geometry, but we had to drop the bike quite a bit because we're having a lot of problems under braking and on the exit of the corners, wheelying too much," Stoner said. "So we dropped the bike, tried to make it a little more stable in as many places as we could. And the more stable we got it under braking, the better turning and everything like that

"Unfortunately it kept losing grip. So no matter we did, I was getting more confident on the track and riding harder, and we just kept getting slower and slower and we couldn't really understand it that much. We knew we were in a bad situation with grip, but not that bad. So we just decided to go back somewhere in the middle. Try and get a bit more weight over the rear and try and get it pushing a little bit more, but had to put up with the wheelying a little bit more. And immediately we found an improvement, the bike started to feel a lot better and the lap times started to tumble. So from there we put a soft tire on and managed to pull ourselves a little bit way up the grid and away from the clutches of the third row, so we're happy about that."

Lorenzo hadn’t been off the front row since last year’s race in Phillip Island nearly a year ago. Since he only needs 20 points between now and the end of the race in Malaysia to clinch the title, he’s under considerably less pressure. And he’s certain to be a factor in Sunday’s 14th race of the MotoGP World Championship.

The Majorcan was joined on the second row by Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammates Colin Edwards and Ben Spies, in fifth and sixth, respectively, with the fifth equaling Edwards' best qualifying performance of the season from Mugello.

Randy de Puniet wasted what might have been his best lap by running off the track at the end of the hour. He had to settle for seventh on the row three pole in front of San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki).

Loris Capirossi, Bautista's teammate, is on the row four pole in front of Nicky Hayden. Ducati Marlboro's Hayden never got going and spent much of the session in the bottom half of the field, where he’d finish. Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini) is the final rider on row four.

MotoGP Qualifying:
1. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) Honda 1:47.001
2. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha 1:47.055
3. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati 1:47.464
4. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 1:47.295
5. Colin Edwards (USA) Yamaha 1:47.464
6. Ben Spies (USA) Yamaha 1:47.648
7. Randy de Puniet (FRA) Honda 1:47.752
8. Marco Simoncelli (ITA) Honda 1:47.914
9. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Suzuki 1:48.002
10. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Suzuki 1:48.068
11. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati 1:48.182