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Telefonica Movistar Suzuki take front two rows in historic last race

Telefonica Movistar Suzuki take front two rows in historic last race

Team Telefónica MoviStar Suzuki riders Kenny Roberts Jr and Sete Gibernau will start tomorrow´s Rio GP from the first and second rows of the grid, after a hectic and breathtakingly close final qualifying session for the last-ever race in the 500cc GP class.

Their strong form gives both riders a hand hold on history, as the 16th race of the 2001 season closes the 500-class chapter in racing history – a chapter that predates even the 53-year-old World Championship series. From next year, the premier class will be open also to 990cc four-strokes.

Lap times tumbled today, as the 4.933km Nelson Piquet circuit built up rubber on the racing line, and grip improved. The result was a massive improvement in lap times, which approached last year´s pole time, set on soft ´qualifying´ tyres. More remarkably, the first 13 riders qualified within one second of pole, which went for the first time to Japanese rider Tohru Ukawa.

Both Suzuki riders had been on the ever-increasing pace from the start of the day, which was dry and warm after rain the previous evening. In the morning free session, Roberts and Gibernau were third and fourth-fastest.

For Roberts, tomorrow´s final 500 race is a last chance this year to claim a good result as the defending World Champion, to add to his rostrum finish at the Valencia GP.

Valencia winner Gibernau has an even clearer focus. He has the chance of finishing the top Spanish rider in the 500 class. He starts the race just two points shy of rival Carlos Checa, and if he can finish two places ahead of Checa, who qualified one place down – or one place higher, if he is in the top four, he will achieve his target.

KENNY ROBERTS – Third Position, 1:51.767

I got where I wanted to be – on the Rio front row. Though to be honest anywhere on the first three rows is okay from the race point of view, because I can usually get off the line well. At the end of the session, my team had the bike ready with 13 minutes to go, which would have given me a chance to go out, try for a time, fit another tyre, and try again. I decided to sit it out and just go out once to be sure of the front row, rather than take extra risks trying for pole and maybe damaging my confidence. It was strange sitting in the pits for that time. You never know what will happen at races at strange tracks like this. My aim is to go out and have some fun. If you enjoy yourself, then you get a good result. If it´s not fun, that makes racing a job, and that´s hard. I´ll try and get the lead early, then try and fight them off.

SETE GIBERNAU – Sixth Position, 1:51.874

I could do the times this morning, but in the afternoon we went back to setting the bike so it was a bit easier to ride, and it still went well. I think we´re getting the best out of the bike, and I can´t ask more of myself or the team. We´re losing time on the straight, but making it up again on the turns, which shows we´re getting the best out of the chassis. The bumps are a problem here, but it´s bumpy for everyone, and they´re not going to go away, so we just have to ride them. The times are so close, and I´m expecting a very hard race tomorrow.

GARRY TAYLOR – Team Manager

That was a really good effort from both riders, and the pit crews. With the first 13 guys within a second, the last race of the season, and of the 500 class, will be pretty desperate. We´re looking forward to it, and planning to enjoy it.

500cc, 2001

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