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Rossi rules with Yamaha at Welkom

Rossi rules with Yamaha at Welkom

Rossi rules with Yamaha at Welkom

Valentino Rossi opened the defence of his MotoGP World Championship crown and began a seemingly bright new era with Yamaha in perfect fashion today, setting provisional pole position for the Africa's Grand Prix under clear blue skies at the Phakisa Freeway in Welkom. The irrepressible Italian held off the challenge of his former Honda colleagues Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi, as well as a typical late raid from pole specialist Loris Capirossi on the Ducati, to seal overnight superiority at the head of a provisional grid which features four different manufacturers in the top five positions after the return to form of Kenny Roberts on the Suzuki.

Rossi dominated throughout the session and sealed pole with a series of fast laps at the very end to fend off the attentions of Capirossi, who wrestled the Ducati briefly to the top of the time sheets in the dying minutes. Last year's winner Gibernau also picked up the gauntlet laid down by Rossi, closing in to within 0.025 seconds of the pole man and relegating Capirossi to third place overall.

With new rules this season seeing a change to the grid pattern, with just three riders per row, the fourth fastest time was only enough for the second row for Max Biaggi, who had contested second place for much of the session with Roberts. The former World Champion eventually slid to fifth in the late push for times and is joined on the second row by his compatriot Colin Edwards, making his first MotoGP appearance on the Honda RC211V.

Marco Melandri was the second fastest Yamaha rider, qualifying in seventh place to head up the third row from Nicky Hayden and Carlos Checa. Slightly further back, Alex Hofmann began his maiden MotoGP campaign in positive fashion, qualifying eleventh fastest on the Kawasaki, whilst fellow rookie Shane Byrne will take satisfaction from out-qualifying World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson in his first official outing on the Aprilia.


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