Ahead of valiant De Puniet
This afternoon's MotoGP qualifying session for the Gran Premi Cinzano de Catalunya saw Valentino Rossi take his third pole of the season as he looks reduce Casey Stoner's World Championship lead in tomorrow's race.
The Doctor set a new
circuit best lap of 1'41.840s on the 23rd of his 27 laps to put him in a good position to win his fourth Catalunyan Grand Prix in a row, a potential triumph which would be his sixth from his last seven visits to Montmelo.
However the Fiat Yamaha rider will need to break the current MotoGP pole jinx to take victory, as none of the last eight Grands Prix have been won by the rider starting at the front of the grid.
Rossi will face a stiff challenge tomorrow from home rider Dani Pedrosa, with the Catalan Repsol Honda man in good form and third on the grid - just 0.162s behind Rossi - whilst Ducati Marlboro's championship leader Stoner starts from fourth with a time 0.277s behind the Italian.
A heroic qualifying display by Randy de Puniet saw the injured Kawasaki rider take second place on the grid with a best effort early in the session, just 0.061s off Rossi's best, despite the Frenchman's badly swollen knee which is causing him significant pain following his Mugello crash.
Another solid display from Rizla Suzuki's John Hopkins saw him take fifth, just ahead of fellow Americans Colin Edwards (Fiat Yamaha) and an improved Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda) who seemed to be pleased with his seventh place starting slot.
The Honda Gresini pair of Toni Elias, who like Pedrosa grew up not far from the Catalunya track, and Marco Melandri completed the top ten with Pramac d'Antin's Alex Hofmann.
With five different constructors represented in the top five, less than a second separating the top nine and a real mixture of Bridgestone and Michelin equipped riders in the top ten, tomorrow's race promises to be an open and unpredictable affair.
DORNA / CAPSIS International