MONTEREY, CA, JULY 18: Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner set a new lap record during a cool Friday morning qualifying session at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, site of Sunday’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. Stoner lapped the Monterey circuit with a time of 1:21.915. late in the morning session, bettering his lap record of 1:22.282 from last year’s qualifying session. And, as he’s done the past several races, the World Champion was dominant. Once he went to the top of the time sheets after about 17 minutes, he stayed there, setting a series of successively faster laps. Others made a run at him, but to little affect. His gap to second was .764 of a second. “At the start the track surface was a little cool but grip wasn’t bad and after a few laps it was back to a normal level,” he said. “It took a few laps to get used to the new bumps that have emerged since last season though. In general the track is in good shape and I enjoyed riding because it’s a fun layout and we found a good set-up pretty quickly, using the base from last year. That allowed us to improve as the session went on and I think that if it wasn’t for a bit of traffic at the end I could have gone even faster. For now I’m very satisfied but we have to keep working hard because the temperatures are sure to keep rising in the afternoon and that will have an effect on the track conditions.” Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi finished second in a session that was dominated by Bridgestone riders. The top five were on the Japanese rubber. Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden was sixth, but 1.554 seconds slower than Stoner. Behind Rossi came the San Carlo Honda Gresini of Shinya Nakano, followed at half a second by Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen. Vermeulen’s second teammate for the weekend, Ben Spies, crashed heavily in turn three. He was able to continue finishing the hour in 12th, one spot better than his close friend Jamie Hacking, the Monster Kawasaki rider who was making his MotoGP debut. Riding to keep his job, Ducati Marlboro’s Marco Melandri put in a solid fifth behind Vermeulen, but only .014 up on Hayden. Spies took control of the session early, going to the top spot almost straight away and holding onto it. Hacking was in the top three and took second behind Spies just 12 minutes into the session. Then Rossi went to the top in the 48th minute, with Capirossi and Nakano moving up as well. Spies was now third and Hacking was suddenly sixth. Hayden moved to second 14 minutes into the session, the two-time winner trailing only Rossi and giving Michelin their best placing to that point. With just over 15 minutes Dovizioso jumped to the top, Melandri was second and Rossi improved on his time, but still held third. Then Capirossi, while Hayden pitted. Stoner started slowly before catching fire. Eighth during his second run, he shot to the top after just about 17 minutes. The gap was .212 to Dovizioso, who was the first of five riders on the same 10th. On the next lap Stoner took .638 off his best time and pushed his gap to second to .850 secs. Then it went to 1.130 seconds on the next lap. The gap came down slightly in the 20th minute when Vermeulen went to second, but Stoner set another fast lap, his third in a row, and the gap went up to 1.115 secs. Spies was out now and back into third on his third lap, but 1.337 seconds off Stoner. Stoner pitted in the 23rd minute, giving the others time to catch up. They did, but only slightly. Edwards made a quantum leap into third, dropping Spies to fourth as the in the 26th minute. Then he was down to fifth when Rossi turned in his best lap and trimmed the gap to Stoner to .790 of a second. Hayden moved up to third as the session approached the halfway point, then he was down to fourth when Edwards went up to third, behind Stoner, who’d gone faster on his first flying lap out of the pits, and Rossi, who also improved his time to within .575 secs. of Stoner, then cut the gap under half a second on the next lap only to see it go to .582 with Stoner’s 15th lap. When Rossi, Edwards, and Hayden pitted, Stoner kept going, adding another fast lap in the 25th minute and moving towards record territory. His lap of 1:22.448 was .156 slower than his 2007 pole time. Elias was now third in front of Vermeulen. Spies suffered his first crash in the 48th minute when he fell on the entrance to turn three. The bike cartwheeled to a stop and Spies walked away. He was seventh at the time. Stoner was out again in the final 10 minutes and right back on pace. On his first flying lap he dropped his time to 1:21.944, a new lap record, and 1.253 seconds up on Rossi. His next lap was even better, a 1:21.915 that put him 1.282 seconds in front. Nakano moved into third with his 25th lap, Vermeulen fourth, then Melandri, Elias, and Edwards. Rossi’s best lap came in the final two minutes. It put him just under a second behind Stoner. Stoner might have gone faster on the same lap, but came afoul of Alex de Angelis in the Corkscrew. On his last flying lap Rossi finished at 1:22.679, closing the gap to Stoner to .764 of a second. Nakano was third, then Vermeulen, and Melandri.
Friday Morning Practice: 1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:21.915 2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:22.679 3. Shinya Nakano (Honda) 1:22.953 4. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 1:23.406 5. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 1:23.455 6. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1:23.469 7. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:23.696 8. Toni Elias (Ducati) 1:23.698 9. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:23.760 10. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 1:23.896 11. Ben Spies (Suzuki) 1:23.950 12. Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki) 1:24.050 13. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:24.371 14. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:24.356 15. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:24.392 16. Anthony West (Kawasaki) 1:24.591 17. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati) 1:14.661 18. James Toseland (Yamaha) 1:24.736 19. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:25.311