In the first qualifying session at Phakisa, the ten fastest riders, including Jeremy McWilliams on the 2-stroke Proton, obliterated Rossis old qualifying lap record of 1:34.66. Fastest, to nobodys surprise, was Rossi, but the Ducati of Loris Capirossi was right behind actually leading until Rossis final lap of the session. His teammate Troy Bayliss, in his first time on that track, also made the provisional front row, forth quickest, with Sete Gibernau splitting them.
Colin Edwards had held second quickest time for much of the session, but was not able to respond to the last-minute quick lap times laid down by Val, Capi, Sete and Troy, and ended up in 7th, just behind Max Biaggi and ahead of Alex Barros, who had the quickest Yamaha.
Alex is still bothered by his fractured knee from his Suzuka injury, and the Yamaha was down on power at the 4,500 foot elevation track. This is a problem noted by several riders, including Biaggi, and both Suzukis. This problem did not seem to bother the factory Hondas, the Ducatis or the Aprilias. Yamaha must be getting concerned, after looking so impressive in off-season testing.
Both Suzukis struggled. Roberts was 14th and Hopper ended up in 17th, after finishing his quickest lap on only 3 cylinders (perhaps attempting to emulate the 3 cylinder Aprilias.) The Kawasakis were completely pathetic.
Final qualifications are tomorrow afternoon (South African time) and are expected to be even quicker as more bikes clean the racing line on the dusty track surface.
A number of riders are wearing black armbands and wearing the number 74 on their bikes or helmets in tribute to Daijiro Kato who died last weekend from injuries at Suzuka.
For complete qualifying times, interviews and other reports, check out Crash.net. The MotoGP site also has information, but that site has been responding slowly today.
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