Valentino Rossi pipped Jorge Lorenzo, his Yamaha teammate, to claim pole position for today's French Grand Prix at Le Mans. The Italian, a seven-time world champion, produced a lap of 1min 33.408secs, 0.054secs faster than this season's overall leader Lorenzo, whom Rossi trails by four points in the standings. Rossi was pleased with his first pole of the season, but acknowledged he was concerned about his fitness before the race as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury after he fell badly while competing in a motocross event last month.
"I'm so happy about these weather conditions and I feel confident about the bike," he said after setting pole. "Pole position is always good and that is a good lap time. For the race I am quite worried about my shoulder because after about 10 or 15 laps I started to lose power." Another Spaniard, Dani Pedrosa, followed in third as he seeks to close the gap on the Yamaha riders. Australia's Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, the American, and Randy De Puniet, the home favourite, follow on the second row.
A hard-fought session saw the lead change hands several times in the closing minutes, with Stoner having been a leading contender for a long time on a bike featuring modifications to its front forks. But Rossi stepped up with the 28th of his 30 laps, earning his first Le Mans pole since 2005, and Lorenzo followed even later in the session to take second. The third row sees Colin Edwards, the American, of Monster Yamaha, sandwiched between the Italians Andrea Dovizioso of Repsol Honda and Loris Capirossi, on the only Rizla Suzuki which will take to the start line. Alvaro Bautista, the other Suzuki rider, has been ruled out of competing in today's race after a crash in yesterday's morning practice.
The Spaniard broke his collarbone in a fall in training last week, but was optimistic of competing in the race nonetheless. But he aggravated the injuries after coming off his bike and landing hard on the track on only his third lap, and was one of three riders to fall on the circuit in cool temperatures, which led to riders struggling to warm their tyres and find grip on the track. The others, Ben Spies of Monster Yamaha and Pramac Racing's Mika Kallio, both returned for qualifying, but could only finish 12th and 16th quickest respectively.