MotoGP Assen: Valentino Rossi 'A special feeling'.

MotoGP title leader Valentino Rossi banished his qualifying jinx by snatching pole position for the Dutch TT at Assen. With his championship lead slashed to a single point, and without even a front row start this season, Rossi responded by blasting from ninth to first with one minute of qualifying to go. The 36-year-old then remained 0.213s clear of Suzuki's Aleix Espargaro and 0.259s in front of Honda's reigning champion Marc Marquez to claim his first pole since Valencia last season. 

“It is so important,” Rossi began. “This season I'm always competitive in the race but at the same time I'm struggling too much in practice. Not just pole position, but never on the first row. 

“When you start behind sometimes you can make a good result anyway, but it's always more difficult. And especially in the last races, Jorge starting from the front is impossible to catch.” 

Rossi experienced a scare on his pole lap while passing Espargaro. 

“Aleix stayed on the side of the track. The problem is that I arrive very fast, I brake with the bike still on the left and for one moment I say 'f**k now I go into him!'” Rossi said. “But I was able to change direction in time. After we joked in parc ferme just because I beat him to pole.” 

Espargaro quipped: “As Valentino said I was on the side and I think I helped him to make pole position because he braked even harder to not hit me! He did an unbelievable Sector 3.” 

Both Rossi and Lorenzo have a new M1 chassis this weekend, which Rossi says improves agility and grip on old tyres. However he insists the biggest influence on his pole return was a setting breakthrough at the previous round in Barcelona. 

“After the second victory in Argentina I had some weekends where we were not at 100 percent. But the good thing is that when we suffer, we suffer well. I mean we arrive always on the podium,” Rossi explained. 

“Sincerely we haven't modified a lot of things this weekend but from Barcelona something changed, we make a step. In Barcelona on Saturday we decided to modify quite a lot the balance of the bike. The setting. And I feel straight away a lot better and have a better pace. 

“Also we have the new chassis from Yamaha that is very good for me. I like it a lot. Yamaha tried to improve the feeling and especially create more grip on old tyres. This was the target and sincerely when they say this to me I had some question mark because already our bike works very well from this point of view. But when I tried the new chassis I feel good. In general it is easier to ride, especially after 10-15 laps. 

“So I arrived here very confident, also because I like a lot the track and usually the Yamaha works very well here. From yesterday morning I was competitive. That means you can work in a better way and arrive in qualifying more fast, more strong. 

“My target was the first row and for sure the pole position is a special feeling and a great emotion with all the fans here. But the important part is what happens tomorrow at 2pm.” 

In a role reversal it was team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, winner of the last four races, who qualified down in eighth. The same position from which Rossi claimed both his 2015 victories, in Qatar and Argentina. 

While clearly a contender for victory, Rossi knows he faces a tough challenge from the likes of Marquez and Lorenzo, who were both strong in terms of average pace during final practice. 

“My main target is try to win. When you have a good feeling in practice and a good pace this is normal. But for sure it will be hard because not just Jorge but also Marc and the other guys are strong,” Rossi said. “The second target is try to make more points than Jorge and try to extend a little bit the advantage in the championship. 

“I think that tomorrow Jorge will do a very good race because he is so competitive and at the end of free practice he did a very good pace with a used tyre. But today is important because a lot of time it was the opposite way around – Jorge starting in front and I was behind.” 

After a fully dry Thursday, rain spots during Friday morning practice provided a reminder of the fickle Dutch weather and rain remains a real threat on Saturday. 

Tomorrow's race will be the last to be held on a Saturday, with Assen announcing a switch to the normal Sunday race format from 2016. 

Rossi last won at Assen in 2013, for what was the only victory of his Yamaha comeback season. 

“The first eleven riders today are within 0.5s. The level is high and it will be very tight as always tomorrow.” 


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