Rossi snatches pole in dramatic qualifying practice at Le Mans

Valentino Rossi snatched pole position from his team-mate Colin Edwards in a dramatic finale to qualifying for the Grand Prix Alice de France at Le Mans this afternoon. With sunshine breaking through and drying the track after a wet morning practice, the teams and riders worked frenetically throughout the one-hour session to find a race set-up for tomorrow's fourth round of the 2005 MotoGP World Championship.

It was only the second dry practice of the weekend and the riders left it as late as possible before switching to their qualifying tyres and providing a nail-biting end to the session. Marco Melandri, Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden and Shinya Nakano all posted strong challenges for pole position but were upstaged by a virtuoso performance from the Yamaha pair, with Edwards moving to the top of the time sheets before being dislodged by a new pole record of 1'33.226 from the World Champion.

"This track wasn't so good for me last year so this pole position is very important," said Rossi. "We suffered a little bit in the practice but we did a great job in the hour we had this afternoon. The weather was good, the track surface was good and we were able to take advantage of every available second, working a lot on the tyres and the suspension. The race configuration is not bad. I put in a qualifying tyre and I wasn't at 100% on the first lap, but the second lap was perfect and the grip was excellent."

The intensity of the session saw twelve riders separated by just 0.765 seconds, signifying virtual parity across the first four rows of the grid. Melandri completes the front row in third place after dominating the session for long periods, with his team-mate Gibernau just 0.002 seconds behind him at the head of the second row in fourth. Hayden and Nakano complete the second row, with John Hopkins heading up row three from Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa. Local favourite Olivier Jacque qualified in thirteenth place, behind Loris Capirossi, Alex Barros and Toni Elías.

Dani Pedrosa resumed control of the 250cc class with a dominant pole position at a circuit he has enjoyed victory at for the past two seasons. Pedrosa was dislodged from the top of the quarter-litre standings for the first time in over a year by Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner in the last round in China but signalled his intentions today, qualifying 0.489 seconds ahead of Stoner. Dovizioso, who leads the championship by 3 points from the Australian, missed out on a front row start as he qualified fifth fastest behind Jorge Lorenzo and Sebastián Porto. Home favourites Randy de Puniet and Sylvain Guintoli both start from the second row after qualifying sixth and eighth respectively, with Alex de Angelis sandwiched between the French pair.

In the 125cc class Thomas Lüthi clinched the first pole position of his career and became the first Swiss rider to do so in sixteen years, twice bettering Mika Kallio's fastest lap with his final two efforts of an accident-strewn session. Kallio had dominated for the majority of the session but was relegated to second place by Lüthi, with Héctor Faubel and Gabor Talmacsi completing the front row. Marco Simoncelli and Julián Simón both failed to improve their times from yesterday and dropped to fifth and eighth place respectively, with Simon escaping unhurt from a spectacular crash in the first chicane.


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