On what is believed to have been his final qualifying session on a Honda after four years and three premier-class world championships, Valentino Rossi today reminded the MotoGP community of just how special he is by rising to a level the likes of fellow front row starters Sete Gibernau, Loris Capirossi and Nicky Hayden were simply unable to touch.

With Rossi rumoured to have accepted a Yamaha deal for next season, all eyes at the 2003 season finale are on the Italian's potential successor as Honda's number one - with Gibernau, Hayden, Biaggi and Colin Edwards (expected to be confirmed as Gibernau's 2004 team-mate this weekend) all in the running.

But in a demoralising display, Rossi spent most of Valencia final qualifying simply watching his rivals try and match his Friday pace, then when Gibernau did finally beat that time - with the aid of a qualifying tyre - the 24-year-old simply put a super soft Michelin of his own and blasted a 'non-negotiable' 0.67secs clear of the Catalan.

If that 0.67secs advantage over the near identical Honda of Gibernau is subtracted from the top Yamaha qualifying time, of 1min 33.454secs (by fifth fastest Carlos Checa), it is possible to argue that Rossi would still be on pole, by 0.3secs, even if he had been riding an M1 this afternoon...

As if that sort of statistic isn't enough to worry the competition, Vale's first Valencia pole also gave him the BMW best qualifier award for 2003. The award is given to the rider with the lowest time after every GP qualifying session, plus the Catalunya pre-season test, is added together - and Rossi's nine poles from sixteen attempts put him a total of 4.769secs under next best qualifier Biaggi, earning him a brand new Z4.

"We ride very well and use 100% of the qualification tyre and it is possible to make a fantastic time," smiled Rossi at the end of the hour. "I'm very happy because I find this track much more difficult than the others but today we ride very well. We wait for tomorrow and hope for good weather. There are already very many people here. We hope to make a good show tomorrow."

Rossi is riding at Valencia with a special 'Austin Powers' type livery, designed by competition winner Ernesto Arnaez, who was present to see his winning design unveiled this morning in final free practice.



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