Saturday, April 29, 2006
MotoGP’s first wet weather qualifying session under the one-session rule threw up several surprises. First, MotoGP rookie Chris Vermeulen set the pace on a Bridgestone shod Suzuki that looked like it had its front tire nailed to the tarmac while the pilot was happy to let the back end do what it wanted even at extreme angles of lean. In the closing seconds of the session Nicky Hayden, Honda and Michelin’s best man right through the hour, looked like he would steal pole, but he got into the final braking effort too hot and overshot. He was very unhappy which, given his objective had been a front row start, seemed like he was being a little tough on himself. It wasn’t that long ago that he wasn’t too competitive in the wet.
The other quick guy at the finish was Sete Gibernau, who out-qualified his team-mate for the first time. Sete was on pole here last year and has always been a history of excellent wet weather results (except last year). At the front row press conference he had an entertaining exchange with a Spanish journalist who asked him who he had been referring to when he said some people didn’t want him to succeed. After a bit of verbal fencing, Nicky Hayden broke in to say that he was one of those people who didn’t want Sete to be competitive. That got the biggest round of applause of the day. I believe the confrontation dates back to an article about Sete in a Spanish mag entitled “The World’s Biggest Loser.”
Chris Vermeulen was asked, of course, about the differences between his last job in Superbike and his current employment. He pointed out that on his old ‘Blade he didn’t have any spin control or launch control which meant the Suzuki might be at times easier to ride. However, it was a much more difficult to set up to get the best out of. Chris was of course asked about the changes Suzuki had made after the disaster of Qatar – eight broken engines, thirteen engine changes was one estimate. “They put all the oil back in,” he deadpanned.
No such humor over at Yamaha where Rossi reckons it will be impossible for a Michelin shod bike to win if it rains, which it will probably do but maybe not until late in the afternoon. Bridgestone did indeed dominate the session but Michelin had second place although their next man, Stoner, was seventh. And if it’s dry? Rossi still isn’t happy that the Yamaha has shaken off its set-up problems. At least the chatter still hasn’t reappeared.