Stoner smashes record to win pole at Laguna Seca
Casey Stoner continued his pole-to-pole run on Saturday afternoon in Laguna Seca, with his fifth consecutive qualifying top spot and a breathtaking series of laps at the scene of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. The 2007 MotoGP World Champion –winner of last year’s race from pole position- had been peerless throughout the free practice sessions, and confirmed his superiority at the American circuit in the hour-long qualifying run.
Having broken his own circuit record continually with every session, it took just nine laps for Stoner to do so again. Three laps later and the Ducati Marlboro man was down to 1´21.374 without the aid of qualifying tires, and he finally settled on the definitive pole position record time for the weekend with a jaw-dropping 1´20.700 in the final ten minutes. In doing so he cut the previous best by just over 1.5 seconds.
Nine riders were able to break the 1´22 barrier for the first time in the Saturday session, but none were able to do so over an extended series of laps as the reigning titlist did. His imposing pace will pose plenty of problems for those attempting to stop another victory and an ongoing World Championship fightback from Stoner.
Before Stoner’s remarkable feat only one rider had taken five successive pole positions in the history of the World Championship, and he will start Sunday’s race from second on the grid. Valentino Rossi was nearly half a second slower than his title rival, but achieved his important goal of earning a front row start and a better position from which to challenge the form rider of the moment.
The American fans will have a home rider on the front line for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, with Nicky Hayden making the most of his Michelin qualifying tire to battle his way into the top three. The 2005 & 2006 winner at Laguna Seca is chasing his first podium of the year, and to take it in his `backyard´ would delight both the public and the Repsol Honda rider himself.
Second Fiat Yamaha man Jorge Lorenzo heads the second row, joined by satellite Yamaha rider James Toseland and LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet.
All four Yamaha riders will start from the front three rows, although Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards was perhaps expecting more from his qualifying run. With Michelin making an afternoon comeback after a worrying morning performance, the American was nudged down to the third line by just 0.026.
2007 race runner-up Chris Vermeulen and Laguna Seca first-timer Andrea Dovizioso complete the third row.
There were crashes for both San Carlo Honda Gresini riders in the qualifying session; Shinya Nakano was first to hit the ground, lowsiding and hitting the airfence in similar fashion to Anthony West’s Friday tumble, whilst Alex de Angelis highsided soon after. He was nursing a sore left hand after the impact, and performed just two additional laps before time ran out.
Also crashing out was Kawasaki replacement rider Jamie Hacking, who had a few nervous moments throughout the run. Both he and Rizla Suzuki wildcard Ben Spies were left to concentrate on their MotoGP setups on Saturday, with the AMA Superbike practice session cancelled in the morning due to fog.
Alice Team’s Toni Elias had looked on course for a second row start until the final five minutes, but some fast rivals and a late fall meant that he would have to settle for tenth –still his best qualifying result of the season to date.
1 C. 1 C. STONER AUS Ducati Team 1'20.700
2 V. ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team + 0.447
3 N. HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team + 0.730
4 J. LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team + 0.936
5 J. TOSELAND GBR Tech 3 Yamaha + 1.148
6 R. DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP + 1.221
7 C. EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha + 1.247
8 C. VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.271
9 A. DOVIZIOSO ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP + 1.274
10 T. ELIAS SPA Alice Team + 1.299
11 L. CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.339
12 S. NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini + 1.392
13 B. SPIES USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.427
14 S. GUINTOLI FRA Alice Team + 2.019
15 M. MELANDRI ITA Ducati Team + 2.257
16 A. DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini + 2.335
17 J. HACKING USA Kawasaki Racing Team + 2.609
18 A. WEST AUS Kawasaki Racing Team + 3.825