Casey Stoner set the pace during free practice at Phillip Island, posting the fastest lap time in both sessions.
Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner led the way through Free Practice at Phillip Island in Australia, coming in as the only rider to move below the 1’30 mark. Stoner’s teammate Dani Pedrosa finished the day second-fastest and current championship points leader Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha Factory Racing trailed in third. In the run-up to the Australian Grand Prix forecasts called for wet weather early in the weekend, but riders were treated to dry, although windy, conditions through both practice sessions.
Stoner returned to the grid at Motegi after a prolonged absence following an incident at Indianapolis where he injured his right ankle. The Honda rider continues to deal with pain in the ankle, but cites the layout of the track at Phillip Island and continued improvements to his set-up as contributing to his top-times during FP1 and FP2.
“It was a very positive first day, we were pretty quick to get on the pace and to be honest I didn’t expect to achieve the lap times we did,” said Stoner. “With the extra horsepower we have this year it’s a little easier to get around this place quickly! This is very positive at this stage of the weekend but we’ll have to wait for tomorrow and Sunday to see where everyone else is. My ankle is in a lot worse condition than in Motegi but coming here, there are a lot less right hand corners, it’s nice to take a bit of weight off it.”
Dani Pedrosa was second-fastest during free practice at Phillip Island, coming in 0.885 behind Stoner.
With Stoner showing signs of a return to his pre-injury form, Pedrosa will likely have two riders contending with him for the top spot in Sunday’s race. The Spaniard has gone head-to-head with Lorenzo in recent rounds as the two battle for the 2012 championship and will be looking for his fourth consecutive race win of the season in Australia. Stoner will be a difficult rider to outpace though since he’s only lost once, during his rookie year in the premier-class, at his home circuit.
“Fortunately, today we’ve had two dry sessions which was not expected and that’s good at a circuit like this as the first day is important to find a good direction for the set up,” said Pedrosa. “I only tried the soft rear tire today, so tomorrow will be important to test the hard compound and some different ideas on the electronics and suspension to improve the feeling. Casey is going very fast here, as expected, so let’s see if it stays dry tomorrow and we can work on the pace and close the gap to Casey.”
Lorenzo was one who struggled with the heavy winds at the circuit, finding it uncomfortable to ride through the blustery conditions. His main objective come race-day is to remain close to Pedrosa and keep the Repsol Honda rider from closing in on the overall points lead.
Jorge Lorenzo struggled with the wind at Phillip Island, but was able to come in third-fastest despite the difficulty.
“It’s been really tough so far today, the conditions are quite difficult,” said Lorenzo. “It’s been really windy which makes it very uncomfortable to ride. We are going to try and stay with Dani here and also Casey but he is very fast, he’s on another level at this track. I think we are close to Dani so our goal is to try and beat him. We’re going to try and make the bike more stable tomorrow to keep the wheels on the ground and make it more comfortable in the wind.”
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow trailed Stoner by 1.368 seconds in fourth, followed by his teammate Andrea Dovizioso an additional 0.091 seconds back in fifth. Crutchlow ran into some personal trouble at the start of the weekend in Australia after coming down with a high fever and a bout of bronchitis. His fever came down slightly for the practice sessions, but the British rider found it somewhat difficult to breathe and to keep control of the bike in the challenging conditions. Dovi was in fine physical form, but needs to iron out some front end issues in order to come closer to the front-runners.
San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista finished the day in sixth, followed by LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl in seventh. Bradl struggled to gain good feeling through the fast corners at Phillip Island, finding it difficult to keep the bike balanced. Ducati duo Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden took eighth and ninth respectively as both riders experienced trouble with feeling as well. Rossi stated he’ll look “for a balance that allows me to ride well in the fast corners without losing too much traction in acceleration,” while Hayden cited chatter issues and a bumpy surface as contributing to his lack of confidence on track.
Power Electronics Aspar’s Randy de Puniet rounded out the top-10, heading up the CRT effort and finishing ahead of satellite riders Hector Barbera of Pramac Ducati and Karel Abraham of Cardion AB Motoracing, who took 11th and 12th respectively. De Puniet’s teammate Aleix Espargaro was 13th thanks to his FP1 lap time and American rider Colin Edwards of NGM Mobile Forward Racing finished 14th due to set-up changes from the previous round at Sepang.
MotoGP Phillip Island Friday Results 2012:
1. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1’29.999
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1’30.884
3. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1’31.005
4. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1’31.367
5. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha) 1’31.458
6. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1’31.616
7. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 1’31.702
8. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1’32.030
9. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1’32.312
10. Randy de Puniet (ART) 1’32.674
11. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1’32.706
12. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 1’32.744
13. Aleix Espargaro (ART) 1’33.727
14. Colin Edwards (Suter) 1’33.835
15. Michele Pirro (FTR) 1’34.002
16. Danilo Petrucci (Ioda-Suter) 1’34.531
17. James Ellison (ART) 1’34.561
18. Ivan Silva (BQR) 1’34.746
19. Roberto Rolfo (ART) 1’34.771
20. Kris McLaren (BQR) 1’38.203