Yamaha's new-for-2007 YZF-R1 demonstrated that it is a weapon to be reckoned with in world superbike competition, with Noriyuki Haga scoring provisional pole on the bike's world championship debut in Qatar today.
The Yamaha Motor Italy WSB Team rider topped the timesheets for much of the session onboard the MotoGP-inspired R1, with the Japanese rider particularly happy with his performance because he was concentrating on finding a good set-up to last Saturday's 18-lap race rather than going for an ultimate pole position time. Haga's 1:59.019 provisional pole time was set on race rubber and is the fastest ever superbike lap of the Losail circuit, being over half-a-second faster than Troy Bayliss' qualifying lap last year, and a full second quicker than his own race record.
There was double delight for the Yamaha Motor Italia squad as team-mate Troy Corser also ended the day on the provisional front row. The Australian was also under Bayliss' previous best, posting a 1:59.440 to end the day fourth on the timesheets in his debut with the Italian squad.
Having tested at the circuit just a few weeks earlier, the team arrived in Qatar with a good base setting for their R1s. Despite this, the squad still had a great deal of work to get through in order to get the best out of their machines for Saturday's races. With track temperatures approaching 45 °C on the tarmac, tyre selection could prove critical this weekend. Corser and Haga have access to newer-specification Pirelli tyres this weekend than they had during testing, giving them a heavy programme of tyre testing in the practice sessions.
Shinichi Nakatomi ended the day 15th on the Team YZF Yamaha entry. The new squad, born out of the Yamaha Motor France-entered team of 2005 and 2006, is chiefly responsible for development of Yamaha's YEC range of customer race parts and using the world series to test and improve the range. The Japanese rider, entering his second year in the series, posted a time of 2:01.964 to gain a provisional place in tomorrow afternoon's grid deciding superpole session.
In today's tight qualifying session it was British rider James Toseland (Honda) who pushed Haga closest, recording a time of 1:59.056 to take second in the overnight standings. Joining them and Corser on the provisional front row is former 250cc world champion and Yamaha MotoGP rider Max Biaggi (Suzuki), who was third fastest on his superbike debut.
Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italy WSB Team);
"I am surprised to be fastest because when we tested here I did not have a really good feeling with the bike. This morning I tried the set-up we left the test with but the feeling was still the same. For the afternoon we changed a few things and made a big step and I am now happy with the way the bike turns. We worked hard to find a good setting for the race and I still want to get better tyre life. For six or seven laps the tyre is very good but then we find that the rear falls away a lot on the right side. The new bike is working well. We only had our shakedown tests a few weeks ago but luckily we are able to carry forward many of the parts and knowledge from the previous R1 so we already have a very good base to work from."
Troy Corser (Yamaha Motor Italy WSB Team);
"I'm fairly happy with that. The track feels different from when we tested here and that's had an effect on how the bike is performing. We need to improve the front end tyre feel and there are quite a few little things for us to try out tomorrow. For sure it would have been nice to have had a few more tests before the first race but we've got a good base to work from and fourth is a pretty decent start."
Shinichi Nakatomi (Team YZF Yamaha);
"No so bad! We made an improvement of two-and-a-half seconds between the morning and afternoon and I hope we can make some more improvement as we learn more about the set-up of the new machine."
Massimo Meregalli (Team Coordinator - Yamaha Motor Italy WSB Team);
"We tested here a few weeks ago because we understood the importance of being competitive from the very first race. We found a good base setting at the test and, but for a few small changes, only the tyre options are different. We're happy with how it's gone today but it is hard to really judge how competitive we can be on race day at this moment. Both riders have been able to complete around 11 to 12 laps on the tyres but we still have to do some more endurance testing tomorrow."
Max Biaggi - 3rd, 1:59.369:
I don't feel that there's been a big change to the track since we tested here recently, but for sure the hotter conditions this afternoon had an effect on the grip level. It's normal that when the track gets hot, the performance or grip goes down. That's when you have to understand your tyres and try and conserve them towards the end of a race. The rear is not a problem for me but the front tyre is worked much harder and that's why you have to work to get the best chassis set-up and balance to be able to run hard at the end of a race. At the moment, the area where we are working the most is on the acceleration of the bike. Of course, like all riders, I want better acceleration but I feel that it is in this area where we are a bit lacking. If we can improve that, without losing anything elsewhere, I think we can have a good race day.
Yukio Kagayama - 7th, 1:59.805:
No big problems at all today and because of our recent tests, our bike is pretty much ok for this track. There was a little problem with chattering but we are working on improving the bike's acceleration, mainly because that's what I feel I need at the moment. For me, the track was a little slippery - probably because the strong winds in the past couple of days have deposited some sand on the surface. My two bikes here have slightly different engine characteristics and maybe I need a compromise between the two. We will try a couple of things tomorrow and see if we can make an improvement.
"It's been a good day. I was quickest in this morning's practice, but this afternoon we had a problem with the number one bike. So, I had to use my second bike for the whole of the qualifying session. It would have been a lot better to be on the number one bike, but to come out with a time of 1.59 flat - which is my personal best at Qatar - is not bad at all. I'm really pleased."
"Everything is not going so bad, but we're having just a few little problems like getting the bike to do exactly what we want from when we tested here last time" he declared. "The times are not really so bad, and we're not so far off the front. It's just that everyone's riding really well at the moment and I'm missing a little something and in these conditions it doesn't take much to be down a couple of places because everyone's going very fast. We've got a few things to think about, especially at the front where we're struggling a bit but we'll try them tomorrow and hopefully I'll be a bit further up at the front.
"That wasn't bad for first qualifying but I can see that our rivals have got a good race pace, especially Max, Nori and James. We had a few problems like last year when it started to get warmer in the afternoon and for our twin-cylinder Ducati these are the worst possible conditions because you start to slide around at the rear. I'm happy that we've still got a few more things to try and I'm sure we can set a good race pace seeing as we can make a few more changes to the set-up. As for me, I feel much better after the winter, calm and relaxed, we've done a lot of testing and that has helped me to get back into form."
"The first day has been really good for me. This morning we worked on the bike to make sure it was set up right for the track. I like this circuit and I did well here in testing, but not well enough. This morning I was immediately quicker and I understand what I need to do to improve. I managed to get a good line and secured a time of 2:00, which I have never done here before so I am feeling good. I think that if can concentrate even harder tomorrow I can keep improving."
- 1 Noriyuki Haga, Yamaha (JPN) - 1'59.019
- 2 James Toseland, Honda (GBR) - 1'59.056
- 3 Max Biaggi, Suzuki (ITA) - 1'59.369
- 4 Troy Corser, Yamaha (AUS) - 1'59.440
- 5 Lorenzo Lanzi, Ducati (ITA) - 1'59.459
- 6 Troy Bayliss, Ducati (AUS) - 1'59.507
- 7 Yukio Kagayama, Suzuki (JPN) - 1'59.805
- 8 Ruben Xaus, Ducati (ESP) - 2'0.244
- 9 Roberto Rolfo, Honda (ITA) - 2'0.258
- 10 Fonsi Nieto, Kawasaki (ESP) - 2'0.309
- 11 Michel Fabrizio, Honda (ITA) - 2'0.467
- 12 Max Neukirchner, Suzuki (GER) - 2'0.626
- 13 Regis Laconi, Kawasaki (FRA) - 2'0.733
- 14 Joshua Brookes, Honda (AUS) - 2'0.936
- 15 Shinichi Nakatomi, Yamaha (JPN) - 2'1.948