Valentino Rossi got his Grand Prix of Japan weekend off to a promising start with the fastest lap of the first free practice session on Friday, Honda's Dani Pedrosa forced out with broken collarbone.
After having experienced dip in form in recent weeks following his injury-plagued season, Valentino Rossi got his Grand Prix of Japan weekend off to a promising start with the fastest lap of the first free practice session on Friday.
The reigning world champion clocked a best time of 1:48.174 with his final lap of the Twin Ring Motegi circuit and in doing so snatched top spot from fellow Italian Andrea Dovizioso, leaving him 0.213s clear at the end of the hour-long practice.
“I’m really happy about today, it is honestly a big surprise for me to be first!” Rossi beamed. “I was expecting to suffer a lot here with my shoulder because there are so many hard braking areas but in fact they are all quite straight so I was happy to find I was okay.
“In fact I felt very good on the bike right from the start and we have done a great job here with the setting. I used the new engine and Yamaha have done an excellent job on it, it is especially better in fourth and fifth gears and everything is working very well.
“I know it’s only Friday but it’s a long time since I have been in front like this so I have to enjoy this sweet feeling!
“I know there’s a chance of rain for the rest of the weekend, which is a pity, and if it is wet we will do our best. I am sorry for Dani; I saw the crash from far off and it’s bad luck, I hope it is not too bad.”
However the major talking point of the day was an extremely unfortunate stroke of bad luck for Spain’s Dani Pedrosa.
Heading into the weekend Pedrosa sat 56 points behind compatriot Jorge Lorenzo and is the only rider capable of preventing the Mallorcan from winning the title, however inside the opening five minutes of the session the Repsol Honda rider crashed out, fracturing his left collarbone in three places.
The 25 year-old had completed just two laps when he came off his factory RC212V between turns eight and nine, and was stretchered to the medical centre where his injury was confirmed following X-rays.
Pedrosa will miss this weekend’s race and will return to Spain where he will undergo surgery before making a decision on when he will make his racing return.
“Obviously this has been a really bad day for us. It was a strange crash in only my second full lap, in a slow section of the track,” Pedrosa explained. “I tried to stop the bike as usual but I knew something was wrong and couldn’t avoid going down. After the crash I knew immediately that I was injured because it was very painful.
“I had a big impact in my left ankle and also my collarbone was broken as I hit the track – so obviously it feels very unlucky because recently we have had really good results. I’ve been very healthy through the pre-season and through the year and we had been working a lot to get to and stay at the maximum level.
“Another injury to contend with is really not what I needed – I don’t feel as though I deserve it. Anyway, once the doctors had checked everything here, we decided it was best to go back to Spain for the operation. I hope it goes as well as possible and that I can return to racing soon.”
That left Dovizioso to carry the flag for the factory team and the Italian led until the final moments of the session, eventually placing second with his time of 1:48.387.
Just 0.087s behind him was Lorenzo, who was exactly three-tenths of a second off his teammate Rossi’s pace.
Casey Stoner set the fourth fastest time on his Ducati Desmosedici GP10, just seven-thousandths off Lorenzo, with Ben Spies (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) recovering from a moment midway through the session to place fifth.
“From the first setting we tried to the second one and we made a huge step forward but after that, as I got more used to the track and found my braking points, we went a little bit backwards with the set-up,” Stoner said. “Also the rear tyre dropped off a lot towards the end, which affected my pace although it was the softer compound tyre and it had pretty much done race distance so that is not a concern.
“The question for us is whether we can get our bike working with the hard compound tomorrow. Hopefully the weather stays like this and allows us that opportunity because we have plenty of things we want to try.”
Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP) completed the top six after an impressive session ended with the Japanese rider looking in good shape for his home GP.
Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Héctor Barberá (Páginas Amarillas Aspar), Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) – on his return after a one-race absence through injury – and Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team) were all inside the top ten.
There were run-offs during the session for Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda), Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini Team) and Aleix Espargaró (Pramac Racing), whilst Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) had a crash inside the final five minutes, from which the American walked away uninjured.
Julián Simón laid down the fastest time in the first practice for the Moto2 class at Motegi with a lap of 1’54.203, however the Mapfre Aspar rider’s positive signal of intent fell flat as he crashed out at the very end of the hour-long session.
It was a minor incident thankfully, and Simón led Championship frontrunner Toni Elías of the Gresini Racing team on the timesheet. Elías was 0.124s off his compatriot’s pace, with Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) completing the top three at an almost identical distance further back.
Scott Redding, whom it was announced will continue with the Marc VDS Racing Team for the 2011 and 2012 seasons yesterday, was fourth and just two-thousandths of a second down on De Angelis. Yonny Hernández (Blusens-STX) and Simone Corsi (JiR Moto2) completed the top six, with Yusuke Teshima (FCC TSR) the highest placing home rider of the session in seventh.
Dominique Aegerter (Technomag-CIP), Gabor Talmacsi (Fimmco Speed Up) and Claudio Corti (Forward Racing) were all inside the top ten, with the race winner from last time out at Aragón, Andrea Iannone (Fimmco Speed Up), down in 27th position by the end of the practice.
Nico Terol settled into his rhythm immediately as the Bancaja Aspar rider set the fastest lap of the opening 125cc practice session. The Spaniard’s best time of the hour – a 1’59.882 – was the only lap under two minutes as he broke that barrier and then improved on his own effort again, finishing 0.203s ahead of rival Marc Márquez (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport).
The gap from Márquez to third-placed Sandro Cortese (Avant Mitsubishi Ajo) was 0.320s, with Bradley Smith (Bancaja Aspar) a fraction over three-hundredths further back. The Brit had a minor run-off as he pushed hard to improve his time, eventually marking his best effort on his 15th and final lap.
Pol Espargaró, fresh off the back of his victory at Aragón, had a difficult session which saw the Tuenti Racing rider crash twice. The first incident, at turn four, was a slow speed slide from which he recovered immediately to climb back aboard his Derbi machine. Towards the end of the session the Spanish rider then had a high-side coming out of the same turn which saw him limp off the side of the track. He ended fifth fastest at over seven-tenths off Terol’s pace.
Efrén Vázquez (Tuenti Racing), Tomoyoshi Koyama (Racing Team Germany) and Alberto Moncayo (Andalucia Cajasol) completed the top eight. There were also falls for wild card rider Hikari Ookubo (18 Garage Racing Team) and Jonas Folger of Team Ongetta towards the start of the session, neither of which resulted in any further problems.