Rizla Suzuki's Chris 'Stalker' Walker took his best qualifying position of the season securing second place on the grid at the 12th round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park today.
Stalker spent three practice sessions building up his effort, slashing his lap times every outing on circuit. He started strong in qualification but left his best effort to the final minutes, setting a blistering pace at the 2.5-mile long twisting and challenging circuit.
Cal Crutchlow was vying for the top spot on the time-sheets during every session and was challenging again in qualification but was held up by traffic on his quick laps, eventually ending up fifth fastest and heading up the second row.
Valentino Rossi sealed his tenth front-row start of the season ahead of tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi today, the Italian taking second place on an all-Michelin front row in between Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden. Colin Edwards also had a good session, qualifying seventh at the head of the third row.
After making a poor start to the weekend by finishing 14th yesterday, Rossi made a step up this morning and put in the second fastest time in free practice. His qualifying session did not get off to plan however as he made an off-track excursion in the opening minutes and then found himself down in 18th place mid-way through. Edwards meanwhile, was doing little better in 17th, but both began to steadily improve as they worked on refining their race settings and finalizing their tyre choices for tomorrow
Once it came down to qualifying tyres it was clear that Rossi especially was on top form and his first run put him in second place, before improving again with his second tyre and moving one place higher
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet and Anthony West overcame soaring temperatures and exhausting humidity at the Motegi circuit this afternoon, to qualify their Ninja ZX-RR machines on the second row of the grid for tomorrow's 24-lap Japanese Grand Prix.
Kawasaki wild card rider, Akira Yanagawa, will be chasing his team mates from the seventh row of the grid, after qualifying in 19th position today.
De Puniet opened proceedings this afternoon by switching to a qualifying tyre just before the halfway point in the session, capturing pole position with his first attack lap. The 26-year-old Frenchman held onto the top spot until the final six minutes, before finally being deposed by eventual pole sitter, Dani Pedrosa.
Rizla Suzuki's Cal Crutchlow set the third fastest time in the dry morning practice before the rain fell in the afternoon at the 12th round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park in Derbyshire.
He was just 2/10ths of a second behind the fastest rider in the morning and while the second session started dry the rain started to fall with just under half-an-hour remaining, scuppering his chances to improve. He was seventh fastest in the weather interrupted afternoon practice.
'I'm very happy with my pace in the dry," explained Cal. "I started with my Rizla Suzuki set up exactly as I left it at Cadwell Park and tried a couple of tyres this morning. It was extremely windy so I had to be careful. In the afternoon I started on a used tyre with softer suspension and it was comfortable but never had a chance to try fresh rubber and go for a lap time before the rain fell.'
Scorching sunshine welcomed the MotoGP paddock to Motegi today as the fifteenth round of the season got underway at the Japanese track. Temperatures reached a maximum of 34 degrees during this afternoon's free practice and it was a difficult day's work for the riders and teams alike, with Fiat Yamaha pair Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi finishing the day 11th and 14th respectively in the combined standings, which were topped by Dani Pedrosa.
Just five days after his spectacular victory in Portugal, Rossi got off to a less auspicious start today, finishing the morning session fifth but dropping to fourteenth this afternoon after his number one bike suffered a technical problem and he was forced to complete the hour on his second machine. Edwards meanwhile did not fare much better, finding himself down in 13th this morning and climbing just two places in the second session, despite making some improvements to his set-up this afternoon.
Rizla Suzuki is ready and raring to go racing at the penultimate round of the 2007 Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Donington Park in Derbyshire this weekend after a three-and-a-half week break from track action.
Cal Crutchlow piloted his Rizla Suzuki GSX-R1000 to his best ever Superbike results at Cadwell Park at the last round in August with a fourth and fifth and is looking to make the elusive step onto the podium at the challenging 2.5-mile long Donington Park.
"I feel that I am riding better than ever and my Rizla Suzuki is doing everything I want," explained Cal. "For the last few rounds we have made very few changes and my results have been getting better and I think it will be more of the same this time out. I want a podium finish before the end of the season and will be doing all I can to achieve it at Donington Park."
The Red Bull KTM Team returns to Japan this weekend pumped with confidence. The team scored victories in both classes on the famous circuit last season, the bikes are expected to do well and both Aoyama and Koyama are riding in front of their home crowd.
Last year's Grand Prix in Motegi was unforgettable for KTM. Mika Kallio out-braked newly-crowned world champion Alvaro Bautista in the last lap of the 125 cc race, celebrating his third victory of the season. Then Aoyama turned team pleasure into pure unadulterated euphoria by coming home first in the 250 cc category. "A historic day," remembers Technical Director Harald Bartol. "Of course it was our secret plan o be prepared and to do well in Motegi. Even though they don't admit this, the Japanese manufacturers are pulling out all stops to succeed at their home Grand Prix. That's what makes these two victories so valuable."
So what of 2007? First it will be an occasion for Aoyama and Koyama to excel in front of what is always an animated crowd at the spectacular 4.8 km circuit set in rolling hills about three hours north of Tokyo.
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet will be aiming to improve upon last year's premier class outing here, when he crashed out on lap nine. In previous years, when riding in the 250cc World Championship, the Frenchman proved more than capable of conquering the circuit: scoring a couple of top ten finishes at the track. After the disappointment of last week's Portuguese Grand Prix, where a mechanical fault ended his race, de Puniet hopes for a better result at the Twin Ring on Sunday.
Anthony West is also familiar with the circuit, having raced 1000cc V-twins throughout Japan in his younger years, as well as competing in 250s, and one 500cc race, at world championship level. He also took part in an endurance race here once, his team coming second, so he's put enough laps in to know his way around. The 26-year-old Australian, who recently signed to stay with the Kawasaki squad next season, will be hoping to overcome his recent struggles with set up and show both strength and stamina this weekend.
Yamaha has today confirmed that Troy Corser and Noriyuki Haga will remain with the Yamaha Motor Italia World Superbike Team in 2008.
A flamboyant and much-loved character, Haga has worked with Yamaha for many years and his WSB career highlights include second in 2000 and third title position in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Currently Haga is fighting for the 2007 title with only 41 points separating him in second place from front man Toseland, having caught up 25 points at the last round in Lausitz. With only two rounds remaining on 30th September (Vallelunga, Italy) and 7th October (Magny Cours, France) Haga is taking the fight for WSB crown all the way to the wire. So far this season he has already won four races, including taking the double win at the team's home circuit of Monza.
Continuing improvements with the Yamaha YZR-M1 machine and the enhanced performance of Michelin's latest tyres make for another promising weekend ahead as the Fiat Yamaha Team head east for the next round of the MotoGP World Championship in Japan this weekend. A frantic pack-up operation took place at the Estoril circuit on Sunday evening as the entire paddock prepared to make the gruelling 11,000 kilometre journey from the western tip of Europe to far east Asia, where Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards will do battle for Yamaha in the factory's home country.
The long trip to Motegi has at least been taken in buoyant mood thanks to Rossi's stunning fourth victory of the season in Portugal. The Italian kept his slim World Championship hopes alive with a breathtaking ride that saw him cut the gap to series leader Casey Stoner to 76 points with four rounds and a maximum haul of 100 points remaining. The race in Japan is followed by trips to Australia and Malaysia before the series returns to Europe for its traditionally grand finale at Valencia in Spain.
Designed in 1997 as a test venue, Motegi has ultra-modern facilities although the outstanding paddock is not quite matched by the intricacies and character of a somewhat geometric circuit layout.