d'Antin Ducati's Ruben Xaus has taken a shock provisional pole for Saturday's Qatar Grand Prix after setting the pace in the final seconds of an unpredictable first ever qualifying session at the new Losail circuit.

The action started early in the hour with Valentino Rossi running off track no less than twice in the opening fifteen-minutes; the Italian stayed upright each time, then 'waded' his way through the deep Losail gravel before pulling into the factory Yamaha pits - apparently unhappy with the front end of his machine.

Unfortunately for the Italian, he - along with Sete Gibernau and Youichi Ui - would make at least one further trip through the bright white gravel before the half way mark...

Meanwhile, Xaus was having no such troubles and slid his way to the front of the timesheets with 20-minutes gone; the ever brave Desmosedici GP3 rider breaking Colin Edwards' 2mins 7.144secs free practice mark by over three-seconds in the process.

As the halfway mark arrived, factory Ducati rider Loris Capirossi had emerged as Xaus' nearest threat - albeit 1.429secs adrift of the ever quicker Catalan - while Nakano (+1.53), Edwards (+1.55), Gibernau (+1.55), Hopkins (+1.65), Melandri (+1.71), Rossi (+2.00), Checa (+2.18) and Barros (+2.20) completed the top ten.

Edwards would advance to second (+0.8) shortly after, then took a further leap forward on his next lap to knock Xaus from the top by over a second, and become the first rider to break the 2mins 2secs barrier. By contrast, countryman Hopkins was forced to cruise back to the pits - on the 'grass' - after apparent engine problems struck his GSV-R.

The #45 would remain at the head of the field into and beyond the final ten minutes and qualifying tyre - and even extended his lead over nearest rival Xaus to in excess of one-second after finding 0.7secs on his final lap alone - but it wouldn't be enough to keep the Texan on top.

For half a lap behind, MotoGP rookie Ruben was setting fastest ever sector times and would not only match his former World Superbike rival, but find a further 0.308secs to take his - and D'Antin Ducati's - first ever provisional pole.

Edwards' team-mate Sete Gibernau could match the pace up front for much of the session, but was clearly more comfortable then he's been in recent races. The Spaniard would take a last lap third, 0.573secs from Xaus, after rising from the lower end of the top ten.

Gibernau's provisional front row would come at the expense of countryman Carlos Checa, who would finish the day as top Yamaha after team-mate Rossi could only manage a late sixth. The Italian never really seemed to solve his M1's front end issues, and while he frequently pitted, he didn't appear to bolt on a qualifying tyre.

Between the two factory Yamahas was Max Biaggi, the Roman was low as 14th with 15-minutes to go - but climbed up the order after also delivering a late lap. Nicky Hayden was another rider who revived his session in the closing second, the American claiming ninth to finish the day one place in front of top Suzuki and Bridgestone rider Hopkins - who had sat third with four-minutes to go.

Shinya Nakano, fresh form his Motegi podium, took top Kawasaki honours with ninth, while Xaus' team-mate Neil Hodgson slipped from third with five-minutes to go, to tenth by the chequered flag.

Capirossi would be top factory Ducati, in eleventh, while team-mate Troy Bayliss dropped to fifteenth - one place behind Motegi winner Makoto Tamada - after plummeting down the order late in the session.

Suzuki stand in Yukio Kagayama finished the hour 18th, while fellow BSB rival James Haydon qualified just behind Proton KR team-mate Nobuatsu Aoki, in 21st. WCM's rider Ui failed to reach the 107% time by 0.8secs

Full times to follow...

1. Xaus
2. Edwards
3. Gibernau
4. Checa
5. Biaggi
6. Rossi
7. Hayden
8. Hopkins
9. Nakano
10. Hodgson
11. Barros
12. Capirossi
13. Hofmann
14. Tamada
15. Bayliss
16. Melandri
17. Abe
18. Kagayama
19. McWilliams
20. Aoki
21. Haydon
22. Ellison

Ui.

 

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