Qatar Moto GP qualifying Casey Stoner rules

Casey Stoner's perfect Repsol Honda MotoGP debut continued during Saturday's qualifying session in Qatar, when the #27 held off team-mate Dani Pedrosa to secure his 27th pole. As they have been all weekend, Stoner and Pedrosa were in a class of their own during qualifying, locking out first and second for much of the hour. No other rider held provisional pole after the opening five minutes and Stoner always managed to respond to Pedrosa's improvements, although the final margin between them was a frail 0.205sec.
"We can't ask for a much better weekend, everything has gone well and the team have made all the right steps and gradually improved the bike as the weekend progressed,” said Stoner. “Tonight I was able to achieve good, consistent lap times again on the hard tire and this is important for the race tomorrow.

“As ever, we will keep our feet on the ground as we've had good starts to seasons in the past and then they haven't played out as expected, we just need to keep working and ensure that we continue to progress. We've done all our homework and the best job possible, now I just want to get the season started.”

Since making his MotoGP debut in 2006, Stoner has taken pole positions on a 990cc satellite Honda (Michelin tyres), 800cc factory Ducati (Bridgestone) and now an 800cc factory Honda (Bridgestone). Stoner won at Qatar from 2007 to 2009, then crashed out of the lead last year. Pedrosa has never won at Qatar, in any class, and was only seventh last season.

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Yamaha's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo was best of the rest in third place, a distant 0.810sec from Stoner. Jorge Lorenzo will start his first race as MotoGP world champion from the outside of the front row, in third place, in Qatar on Sunday night. The Factory Yamaha star feels that Repsol Honda riders Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa are simply out of reach, and is therefore chasing the final podium position.

“We are still quite far behind the front, but our goal is to finish on the podium and that is in my mind for tomorrow,” said the Spaniard. “My race pace is pretty good; I think I can keep running 1'55.7s or maybe 1'55.8s. We will finalize our set-up in warm-up and try to achieve that tomorrow.” The #1 is likely to face pressure for third place from Honda Gresini's Marco Simoncelli (+0.851sec) and his own team-mate Ben Spies (+0.958sec).

“It wasn't a perfect session, I didn't nail a perfect lap time but you rarely do,” said Spies. “I don't think we were too far off the maximum, maybe there were two tenths left in the bike and that's it. It's not so bad though, we have a good package to battle for the podium tomorrow. I did the best I could so not a bad start to the year.”

The last time a Honda rider won the first race of the season was with Valentino Rossi in 2003. That will surely change on Sunday, with Stoner and Pedrosa looking so strong, although Pedrosa insists the situation isn't clear. "I don't know yet if the race will be a fight between Casey and myself," said Pedrosa. "We've never run at 10:00pm, so I hope the bike works well after 125cc and Moto2 races.

"I want to prepare as best as possible for tomorrow and be ready to be consistent for 22 laps. The race will be fast, I guess, so we will need to maintain a high pace. I hope I will be able to do it and fight for the victory".

But third Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, who will start from seventh place, doubts even Pedrosa can fight with Stoner. “It is impossible to catch Casey, I will try to maintain contact with Dani, Lorenzo and Spies. It's important to start the season with a good result and I will give everything in the race,” he said.

Valentino Rossi will start his first MotoGP race for Ducati from ninth on the grid, having lost further ground during qualifying at Qatar. Unable to keep up with the pace of improvements by man-to-beat Casey Stoner, Rossi has dropped further back from the Australian as the weekend has continued.

Rossi began well with fifth and 0.7sec from Stoner's Repsol Honda in FP1, but that grew to 1.1sec (ninth) in FP2, 1.3sec (eighth) in FP3 and finally 1.5sec in qualifying. Rossi, a seven time MotoGP champion who won last year's Qatar round for Yamaha, continues to struggle with both set-up and shoulder strength.

Nevertheless, the Italian insists that technical progress is being made and is optimistic that he can run a 'relatively competitive' pace on Sunday... providing his shoulder lasts the distance.

“I think that without my shoulder problem, which is causing us to lose five or six tenths, we could have been on the second row today, because we were able to improve the setup by making changes that will also be important in the foreseeable future,” said Rossi.

“Today I was able to ride the GP11 better, but by the time we used the soft tyre at the end of the session, my strength was gone. When I tried to do my lap time, there were some parts of the track where I just couldn't push. “Anyway, we got an okay time and we still have some things we can try in the warm-up.

“As for the race I think that as long as my shoulder lasts, we'll be able to have a pace that's relatively competitive, apart from the two Hondas [of Stoner and Pedrosa]. “We'll see how it goes from a physical point of view in the second half of the race, after eleven or twelve laps in a row riding on the limit.”
Rossi was the second best Desmosedici rider in qualifying, three places and 0.4sec behind Aspar rider Hector Barbera.

In the Moto2 class Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) set the first pole position of the 2011 season in the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar.
Nicolas Terol (Bankia Aspar) took pole position for the opening round of the 2011 125cc World Championship, after leading every practice session of the weekend at the Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar.
Image credits: MotoGP dot com