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Rossi takes first pole for Yamaha

Rossi takes first pole for Yamaha

Rossi takes first pole for Yamaha

Valentino Rossi defied the critics, the pessimists and the record books with a sensational performance under the South African sunshine at the Phakisa Freeway to take pole position for the Africa's Grand Prix after a breathtaking final qualifying session. Rossi has dominated every session at the Welkom venue, setting quick and consistent laps to establish himself as the favourite for Sunday's race, his first with Yamaha since a controversial switch from Honda at the end of last season. When the red light gives way tomorrow afternoon the Italian will become the first rider to start from the front of the grid on a Yamaha machine since November 2002 – a feat even he didn't think possible.

Rossi emerged triumphant from an incredible final qualifying session which saw Shinya Nakano, Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and Nicky Hayden all move into provisional pole in the final ten minutes. Rossi regained control with three minutes on the clock and set the bar at 1'32.647 before returning to his box to watch Marco Melandri, Colin Edwards, Loris Capirossi and Gibernau produce potential pole laps which all faltered in the final sections. Rossi consequently starts tomorrow's race looking to make history as the first rider ever to win consecutive premier-class races with different manufacturers and the first since his hero Barry Sheene to win the opening round of the season for four years running.

Gibernau's last lap effort wasn't enough for pole but it did move him up to second place on the grid as he looks to repeat his famous victory at this circuit from last season. Max Biaggi completes the front trio, with new regulations stipulating just three riders per row on the MotoGP grid this season. It means that fourth place was only enough for the second row for Nicky Hayden, who had only previously qualified in the top four once in his career. The youngster is joined on the second row by Honda colleague and American compatriot Colin Edwards and Japanese rider Shinya Nakano, who has so far enjoyed an outstanding debut with Kawasaki, providing them with their highest ever MotoGP grid position of sixth.

Like Nakano, Yamaha rider Melandri is a former winner of the 250cc race at this circuit and he was also in good form today, his own pole attack eventually serving for an important third row slot in seventh place. Honda rider Alex Barros and Ducati man Loris Capirossi complete a colourful third row which features three different factories and promises a guaranteed assault on the front six riders into the first corner.

Also looking to make a charge from the middle of the pack will be Suzuki pair Kenny Roberts and John Hopkins, who confirmed their improving prospects with the tenth and eleventh fastest times respectively. Honda rider Makoto Tamada completes an all-Bridgestone fourth row, capping an encouraging day for the Japanese rubber manufacturers, who also have Kawasaki rider Alex Hofmann starting his maiden MotoGP season from thirteenth place. Hofmann's fellow rookies Ruben Xaus, on the Ducati, and Aprilia newcomer Shane Byrne were 16th and 19th fastest respectively, whilst World Superbike Champion Neil Hodgson qualified 15th.


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