Sete Gibernau helped erase his last lap Sachsenring mistake - and boosted his chances of a first 2005 race victory - by taking a hard fought Czech Republic Grand Prix pole position at Brno today, during a qualifying session which ended with a Ducati on the front row and world champion Valentino Rossi outside the top three.

Saturday morning's final free practice had seen Ducati's Loris Capirossi - first and second respectively in Friday's two sessions - return to the top with a new lap record of 1min 58.196secs, putting the Italian 0.415secs clear of Suzuki's John Hopkins with Gauloises Yamaha team-mates Coin Edwards and Rossi (fastest on Friday afternoon) completing the top four.

The quartet were covered by 0.531secs, but with Capirossi, Hopkins and Rossi all setting their best time on their very last lap of the session - and Edwards on his penultimate circulation - it was believed that some, or all, had used a qualifying tyre.

Certainly, fifth placed Nicky Hayden, whose best lap came early on in the hour with a race tyre, was left 0.820secs from the top - but both he and sixth placed Gibernau (best lap set midway through the session) were expected to be in contention for pole with the use of super-sticky rubber this afternoon.

Into the qualifying hour and a slow starting session saw Gibernau setting the pace by 0.3secs over Capirossi at the halfway mark, the Catalan having delivered a 1min 59.0secs best to beat his morning time by a tenth of a second, while Hayden, Rossi, Edwards, Biaggi, Barros and Melandri completed a midway top eight covered by just 0.469secs.

Shortly after, Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano suddenly shot to second position from outside the top ten, indicating that Harald Eckl's team were the first to fit a qualifier (others would soon follow) as the Japanese lapped 0.222secs from Gibernau - and over a second inside his morning time.

Next to shine was Hayden, who claimed provisional pole with the first 1min 58secs lap of the afternoon and put a 0.25secs gap between himself and Gibernau, while Carlos Checa - whose Desmosedici suffered technical problems at the start of the hour - moved to third.

Hayden would hold pole until Gibernau returned to the track, with 20-minutes remaining, and set fastest ever sector times through all four quarters on his way to a 1min 58.4secs, with Marco Melandri forming a Movistar Honda one-two by taking second position moments later.

Attention then flicked to Hopkins, the Anglo-American advancing from 13th to 2nd after effectively matching his best morning time to get to within 0.205secs of Gibernau - however the likes of Rossi and Edwards (now back in eleventh and twelfth a over second from pole) were still to fit qualifying rubber.

They would do so with 15-minutes to go, with Edwards immediately slotting into third - then Rossi going straight to pole, with a 1min 58.272secs lap - the first ever 1min 57secs Brno circulation was surely fast approaching...

And the honour would go to Gibernau, who delivered a magnificent 1min 57.615secs on the edge of the final ten-minutes to take a half-second lead over new nearest rival Hayden, with Rossi now reduced to third and Hopkins a fighting fourth. But who could beat Sete?

It would ultimately take until the last two-minutes before Gibernau was challenged, with Hayden matching the double MotoGP championship runner-up at the midway point of his lap and then edging the #15 by just 0.064secs at the line.

However, Sete was also out on track - and less than 30secs later had reclaimed pole by just 0.047secs - while Rossi had left the pits with time for just one fast lap, with the Marlboro Ducatis were also ready to fight.

Capirossi would claim a front row start with third, while Checa took sixth, but fifth placed man Rossi had been fractionally ahead through the first sector - then lost a tenth through the next two sectors and crossed the line 0.371secs from Gibernau, leaving the Italian superstar off the front row in fourth.

That effectively confirmed Gibernau's pole and the Catalan will now aim to repeat his victory of one-year ago and turn around what has been a tough season so far. But among those he'll need to defeat will be Hayden; the American has been itching to prove his home win was no coincidence and looks like he has his best chance of victory since Laguna.

Also heading into Sunday confident will be Capirossi and Ducati, who have been at pains to stress their consistent race tyre pace all weekend and will be desperate for a second podium (after Mugello) to help dissipate the pressure the team has been under.

Rossi meanwhile looks likely to face one of his biggest challenges tomorrow, but few would predict that he won't rise to the occasion and do whatever it takes to be in contention for his ninth victory of the season so far.

Full times to follow...


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



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