It is looking more and more like Rossi might pull a repeat of last year’s championship wining race in Motegi.
Fiat Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi and Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner were both off to a good start in the first day of practice at the Twin Ring Montegi circuit in Japan, with Rossi’s final lap edging out his Australian rival by 0.056 seconds to claim the fastest free practice time. Rossi claimed his eighth championship title at the Montegi tack just six months ago, with Stoner also taking second.
Will this be a case of Montegi déjà vu? Reminiscent of Qatar, Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo was close behind in third after spending some time at the top of the time sheets midway through the 45-minute session. Stoner’s teammate, Nicky Hayden, continues to struggle with injuries amassed in Qatar posting only the 13th-fastest time during practice. The 2006 champ’s primary focus was on correcting the less optimal set-up of his new Desmosedici G9.
It was a strong start for Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermuelen as he lead the pack of non-podium competitors from Qatar.
Among the rest of the pack the most notable movers and shakers were the Rizla Suzuki duo of Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi. Vermeulen led the way for the team with the fourth-fastest time of the day, as he recorded a best lap of 1’49.382 from his 17 laps around the 4,801-meter Motegi circuit. Capirossi was narrowly behind his teammate, clocking a quickest time of 1’49.980 to give him sixth overall. The only other rider turning laps under the 1’50 mark was Colin Edwards (Yamaha Tech 3), who finished between the two Suzuki GSV-R riders in fifth.
Edward’s teammate James Toseland finished 10th riding the Yamaha YZR-M1. The British rider was much happier with the bike’s set-up coming into this round and showed good form throughout the practice, gaining confidence to step it up a notch in qualifying.
Seemingly on the opposite spectrum of the Suzuki squad was the Pramac Racing team of Mika Kallio and Niccolo Canepa who finished in 17th and 18th, respectively. Having never ridden the Motegi circuit before, Canepa was excusably the slowest rider for the day as he focused on learning its layout. However, Kallio crashed his Ducati Desmosedici GP9 halfway through the practice session. Fortunately the Finnish rider was not hurt but the damage to the bike and lost time greatly complicates the work his team will have before Saturday’s qualifying.
Friday’s practice session was run in cold, dry conditions that are likely to be unsettled by the overcast weather later in the weekend. With rain forecast for tomorrow and similar weather as today expected on race day, the information gathered by teams today will be vital to ensure optimal set-up on Sunday. Stoner and Rossi seem to have their bikes equally dialed in for a dry track.
Valentino Rossi – Fiat Yamaha – 1st (1’48.545)
“This is a very good start because we’re at the top and this is very important! The conditions today were hard and it was difficult to reach the limit and work to the maximum with the bike and tires, but it looks like we have a good potential here so I am happy. It’s important to be in front, even though it’s only Friday, because in Qatar we were second in every session and really we don’t like second so much; for sure first is much better! Tomorrow it seems it may rain but we haven’t had the chance to try the new Bridgestone rain tires yet so I think that this could be an important chance for us to understand how they are. It will be interesting and I hope they are good!”
Casey Stoner – Ducati Marlboro Team – 2nd (1’48.601)
“We’re not too far from setting some very decent lap times and considering how cold it was this afternoon I think everything has gone as well as we could have expected. It looks as though the weather forecast is not good for tomorrow so this session might not turn out to be so important in terms of qualifying, but then if it’s dry again on Sunday it could turn out to be crucial. In general the bike feels quite good – we need to try and find a bit more grip on the rear and we have a few ideas that we think could work – but now it’s just a case of seeing what the heavens throw at us tomorrow and dealing with that as best we can.”
Jorge Lorenzo – Fiat Yamaha – 3rd (1’48.965)
“I’m so happy with this practice session because we often struggle a bit at the start of the weekend but today this wasn’t the case at all and I felt great from the start. My M1 felt good when braking, under acceleration and in the corners so I think we are in good shape and now I hope we can continue like this tomorrow even if it rains, in fact I am quite curious to see what happens in the rain and how the lap time is.”
Chris Vermeulen – Rizla Suzuki – 4th (1’49.382)
“We’ve had quite a good start to the weekend here at Motegi. It has not been a track I have gone well at in my last three years with Suzuki, but it has been a big improvement today. We have taken a big step forward with the bike in certain areas – especially accelerating off the corners. There are a lot of those on to long straights here and it all seems to be working well for us. Today we used the same set of tires for the whole session. They worked pretty well, but did drop-off a bit towards the end of the session, but if it is similar conditions on race-day we know what we will be using. The team did a great job today and we got through everything we needed to in the 45-minutes. With it being a shorter session now, we did well to get in three good runs and try out everything we needed to. Hopefully it will be dry tomorrow so we can learn more about the bike and keep improving.”
Colin Edwards – Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – 5th (1’49.697)
“Today was all about gathering information. My thinking even yesterday was to start with the hard tire because we knew it was going to be cold and the forecasts were showing rain for tomorrow, so I needed to get some information in the dry before the race. I started out with the hard tire and didn’t change it for the whole session, just switching the same tire between bikes to play around with the setting. I’m sure if I had run the softer compounds I could have gone quicker, but Bridgestone think the hard front and rear will be what I’ll need for the race. It feels to me like the left side of the tire is a little bit too hard and I’ve got to make sure I get it warmed up. The right side feels really good, but you can’t take too much risk in the beginning on the left, but once it comes to temperature it works fine. The bike feels really great to show what a great job Yamaha has done again. Today was a good start to the weekend and hopefully I can continue that to give Yamaha a good result in Japan.”
Loris Capirossi – Rizla Suzuki – 6th (1’49.980)
“The problem we are finding is that this is the only practice we have on Friday now and we don’t have another one to keep working on the bike. We need more time to get the bike just right. It is working quite well but we still have a bit of work to do on the setting. The conditions didn’t help today because it was very cold and we couldn’t get the tires up to temperature. We used one set of tires for the whole session and the left side still looks like new! We will see how things turn out tomorrow, but there is a forecast of rain and then it might be fine for the race, so we will just have to see what happens and try our best!”
James Toseland – Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – 10th (1’50.432)
“That was a bit more like it. Right to the end I was looking good to be around the top six but I caught (Yuki) Takahashi on my last lap when the tire was working pretty good, so I’m sure I could have got into the 1.49s. My guys have done a great job because I had a slightly different setting on the front fork today to get a bit more control under braking. This place is all about hard braking and that is an area I’ve needed to work on. I’ve got a bit more control on initial braking so it doesn’t upset the bike as much when I’m turning in. I ran most of the session on the hard tire with the weather not looking too good for tomorrow, but I did try the softer one at the end just to check on it. I doubt we’d be able to run it in the race, even if the temperature is quite low. So if it rains tomorrow and it’s dry for the race, at least I know I’ll run the harder tire. It was a difficult first race but we’re not losing motivation and my team have all stuck together. Rain or shine I’m determined to get a good result for them and Yamaha in their home race.”
Nicky Hayden – Ducati Marlboro Team – 13th (1’50.393)
“The track was quite slippery when we first went out and the air felt so cold, with the humidity, it felt like it could rain any second. We certainly had to be careful getting some heat into the left side of the rear and into the front. We tried a few things out with the set-up – I ran both bikes and worked in the direction we’d found in Qatar, where the balance of the bike had felt much better in the later laps, with less fuel on board. Obviously the lap time isn’t great but we improved with every run and pretty much every lap, we got a good number laps in just in case it does rain tomorrow and we worked out a basic direction we need to take for the race, so I’m satisfied. ”
Mika Kallio – Pramac Racing – 17th (1’51.643)
“Looking at the classification today it went really bad. I don’t know what happened when I felt; I lost the control of the rear without even accelerating. This has complicated our work today and we will have almost to start from zero tomorrow morning. I hit really hard my left ankle, but for the moment it seems like nothing too serious.”
Niccolò Canepa – Pramac Racing – 18th (1’51.929)
“I really like the track. I have used this session to learn the best lines to follow. It will be difficult to reach the other riders with only two forty-five minutes free sessions, but I will do my best. I found the circuit very slippery, most of all where Mika has fallen. During this session I have used only one rear tire and having registered my fastest lap time after 20 laps give me some hopes for the rest of the weekend.”