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Stoner claims Le Mans pole, Simoncelli close
14 May 2011
Casey Stoner, fastest in all three free practice sessions at Le Mans, has taken pole for Sunday's French Grand Prix.
The Australian - winner on his RC212V debut in Qatar - was once again in dominant form throughout this afternoon, pushing pole out of reach whenever he was threatened.
But Gresini Honda's Marco Simoncelli came very close to causing an upset - jumping within 0.059sec of the Repsol Honda star on his last lap to match his best MotoGP qualifying at the previous Estoril round.
Stoner's Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was shadowing Simoncelli during the exciting closing minutes, helping the Italian claim his first front row of the year in third (+0.468sec).
By contrast, championship leaders Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa saw their perfect 2011 front row records end on Saturday.
Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa, who moved within four points of Lorenzo after victory at Estoril, will start from fourth while Yamaha's Lorenzo - winner at Le Mans for the last two years – lines up in fifth place.
Lorenzo had qualified on the front row for the previous seven races, stretching back to the tail end of 2010.
But one rider sure to be smiling on the second row is ever-improving rookie Cal Crutchlow, who repeatedly put his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 inside the top six - a position he confirmed by over 0.25sec from team-mate Colin Edwards.
Edwards was the final rider within a second of Stoner, with factory Yamaha's Ben Spies and factory Ducati's Valentino Rossi setting the exact same lap time (+1.053sec) for eighth and ninth.
Rossi's team-mate Nicky Hayden was a fraction slower in tenth.
Randy de Puniet, the only home rider in MotoGP, suffered a highside fall from his Pramac Ducati in the opening ten-minutes.
The incident seemed to fire the Frenchman up and he rose to sixth place by the middle stages, but the #14 went on to qualify eleventh.
Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Ducati) and Toni Elias (Honda LCR) also crashed during the session.
A Honda rider hasn't won the French MotoGP since Marco Melandri in 2006, the last year of 990cc racing.
11. de Puniet
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