The reigning World Champion was in second place behind Sete Gibernau (Honda) with just two minutes remaining but made a last-gasp tyre change before returning to the track and clocking a time of 1’49.223 at the chequered flag. The session did not end quite as spectacularly for his Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards, who set a decent race pace throughout the session but again struggled for rear grip when pushing for a fast time. Despite lapping less than a second off Rossi’s pole lap the American rider, who qualified second at the last round at Le Mans before taking third in the race, will have to settle for a place on the fourth row of the grid tomorrow as he plots another characteristic charge through the field from twelfth place. Rossi will be joined on the front row by Gibernau and Max Biaggi (Honda).
VALENTINO ROSSI – (Pole position - 1’49.223, 25 laps)
“It was a very difficult session but at the end very good – I’m happy. It was a great practice and a hard battle for this important pole position. At the beginning we started to work on the bike for tomorrow and at the end I tried with a qualifying tyre. I was already quite fast with the first one but then I took the second one and went a little bit faster. I saw I was in second position and I knew I didn’t have much time to stop but I came in two and a half minutes from the end and the team did a great job to change the tyre in a short time. It gave me the chance to use the last lap and I was able to improve a little bit and take pole – it was a great job from the team. Tomorrow will be a hard race for everybody. There are a lot of riders near to me so we need to set the bike to the maximum in the morning.”
COLIN EDWARDS (12th - 1’50.176, 25 laps)
“We’ve tried everything today but we just weren’t able to squeeze the extra bit of speed out that we needed. The temperature change from the morning to the afternoon is incredible and the grip levels change so much that the rear was even moving around on the qualifying tyre – we couldn’t make anything stick. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying and it’s frustrating to see the team working so hard for twelfth place. We’re less than a second off pole and still on the fourth row, which is amazing really, but we’ll see what we can come up with in the warm-up and take it from there.”
JEREMY BURGESS – ROSSI’S CREW CHIEF
“I suppose you could say it was business as usual! Valentino came in at the perfect time for the tyre change and put in another wonderful lap, which is what we expect from him. We started the weekend with more or less the bike we wanted after the Le Mans test and have only had to make minor adjustments, such as changing the spring settings to cope with the extra G-force in the corners here. It is always really useful to test after a race and the bike is getting better and better with every Grand Prix. We enjoyed this afternoon but it’s always fun when you’re winning!”