Stoner On Top

Paul Carruthers | September 26, 2008
Casey Stoner may be on the verge of losing his MotoGP World Championship, but the Marlboro Ducati rider isn’t going down without a fight.

The Australian rode his factory Ducati to the fastest time of the day in the combined Friday sessions in Motegi, Japan, clicking off a 1:48.121 in the dry afternoon session.

Stoner bested Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, the Spaniard one of several Honda men hoping to give HRC its first Japanese GP win since Makoto Tamada won the race in 2004.

Valentino Rossi was third fastest, the Fiat Yamaha rider making it an all-Bridegstone front row – at least provisionally. Rossi is expected to clinch the MotoGP World Championship this weekend, though he needs to finish third or better if Stoner wins the race.

Andrea Dovizioso, who was just named as Nicky Hayden’s replacement on the Repsol Honda team for 2009, was fourth fastest and the first Michelin man. He bested a tightly knit group that included three-time Motegi winner Loris Capirossi, Alice Ducati’s Sylvain Guintoli and Repsol Honda’s Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion having led the wet morning session.

Marco Melandri put the second Marlboro Ducati into eighth, ahead of Alice Ducati’s Toni Elias and Randy de Puniet.

Friday Practice

1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:48.121

2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:48.194

3. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:48.510

4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:48.770

5. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:48.779

6. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati) 1:48.800

7. Nicky Hayden (Honda) 1:48.800

8. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 1:48.945

9. Toni Elias (Ducati) 1:48.974

10. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:49.149

12. John Hopkins (Kawasaki) 1:49.197

13. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:49.344

The following is from Repsol Honda…

Repsol Honda rider Nicky Hayden made a good start to his Japanese GP weekend at Motegi today. The American topped this morning’s wet opening session and placed seventh in the tightly packed dry afternoon outing, just three hundredths of a second off fourth place.

Coming to Motegi from his superb second-place finish at hurricane-lashed Indy, Hayden rode brilliantly in the rain, using the latest Michelin rain tyres to end the session ahead of Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. Following the dry session Hayden plans to work on machine balance to improve performance around this stop-and-go racetrack.

Nicky Hayden, 7th fastest, 1m 48.800s

“This year, it wouldn’t be a GP weekend without a little bit of rain. Things felt awesome this morning. The bike set-up was quite similar to what we had at Indy, so the bike, the tyres, everything was working really good. I was quite fast, but it looks like the weather is going to clear up for the rest of the weekend. This afternoon things weren’t quite as great. The track looked a little patchy, so I just did one lap on intermediates when we went to slicks, the track came in quite quick. The bike felt okay in the dry but not great, though with just a few more tenths I would be quite a lot higher up the order. This track I sometimes struggle a bit in the dry. I’m close on all the splits but I’ve definitely got some work to do. I wasn’t completely happy with the set-up, the balance felt wrong, the way it was pitching back and forth into and out of the corners. I’ll try to give my guys some good information, so hopefully they can help me out and make it a bit easier tomorrow.”

Kazuhiko Yamano – Team Manager

“Nicky had a good first day, both morning and afternoon sessions. He is still feeling a little bit of pain from his broken right heel, but after his excellent result at Indy he is very motivated to score another good result here in Japan. The fastest riders are setting a very quick pace here, so Nicky’s target is to improve machine set-up so he can push harder over the next two days.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa rode a storming session at Motegi this afternoon, ending up second fastest, less than a tenth of a second of ‘provisional pole position’.

The performance was impressive, considering that the Spaniard is still getting accustomed to his new technical package – the pneumatic-valve RC212V and Bridgestone tyres – which he raced for the first time in Indianapolis two weeks ago. This morning’s opening practice session was run on a wet racetrack, the circuit drying out in time for the afternoon outing. Conditions are forecast to stay dry for the remainder of the weekend, allowing Pedrosa and his crew to continue working to get the very best out of his new machine and tyres.

Dani Pedrosa, 2nd fastest, 1m 48.194s

“Track conditions were quite difficult this morning, so I struggled a bit. This afternoon everything improved. The track dried out, so we were able to start working towards the race, improving our machine set-up and especially trying the different tyres from our allocation. We found some good grip out there, but we need some more time to find the ideal combination for this track, because I am still finding the limit of the Bridgestone tyres. I am feeling better and better, and we want to keep working hard to get the best set-up because this is such an important race for us.”

Kazuhiko Yamano – Team Manager

“Dani and his team did a good job today. He was not so comfortable in the wet this morning but he made excellent progress in the dry, improving his machine settings and working on tyre choice. The target is always the race and I am sure that he will make more improvements tomorrow, so that he is in a very good position for Sunday.”

The following is from Kawasaki…

Kawasaki’s John Hopkins concluded today’s free practice sessions at the Motegi circuit, which were held in mixed weather conditions, in confident mood after finishing in 12th position on his upgraded Ninja ZX-RR.

Following this morning’s wet practice, Hopkins utilised the dry time this afternoon to evaluate different Bridgestone tyre options from his allocation to find a suitable race tyre for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix. The 25-year-old Anglo-American made an initial evaluation of the upgraded Ninja ZX-RR engine that the team received yesterday, as well as adjusting his chassis set-up to suit the 4.8km circuit.

Hopkins is confident that this new specification engine offers a smoother power delivery, although due to today’s low track temperatures and damp conditions, the Kawasaki Racing Team will continue to make an analysis during the race weekend. Hopkins continued to improve his lap time throughout the hour-long afternoon session and ended the day in 12th position after posting a best time of 1’49.197s on his final lap.

The Kawasaki pilot is now hoping to make further refinements to his chassis setting, to improve manoeuvrability into the turns for tomorrow’s qualifying session.

Despite improving his lap time throughout the day, Anthony West has suffered with handling problems aboard his Kawasaki race machine. The 27-year-old Australian finished this morning’s wet stint in ninth place, but in the later session West struggled with a lack of grip and corner stability, ending the day in 17th position.

The Kawasaki racer will review the data with his crew overnight and is looking to make improvements to his chassis set-up in order to make more of an impact tomorrow around the Motegi track.

John Hopkins

#21 – 12th – 1’49.197

“There wasn’t much we could do this morning in the wet, especially as the rest of the weekend is predicted to be dry, so we just refined our wet weather set-up. This afternoon the track was still damp in places, but we went out on slick tyres and evaluated all of our different Bridgestone tyre options to find something suitable for the race. We also had a revised specification engine to use and although it’s not that different to what we had before, I can already feel that it’s quite a bit smoother. The main area we are concentrating on is making improvements to our chassis setting as I’m struggling at a few of the hairpin corners to get the bike to turn and exit comfortably. However, we set our fastest time right at the end of the session on a tyre that had already done a lot of laps, which is positive. We’ll make a few changes overnight and we’re not that far off the rest of the field, so I’m feeling confident that we can work our way up the time sheets in qualifying.”

Anthony West

#13 – 17th – 1’50.131

“Conditions at the circuit have been far from ideal today as this morning was wet, but it didn’t really dry out totally for the afternoon session. This inconsistency in weather is not making our job any easier, and we need to make some big improvements to move ourselves further up the standings. We’re struggling to get the machine into the turns, and we’re also suffering with a lack of rear traction on corner exit. It felt slippery out on track, and although we’ve made quite a lot of changes to the chassis set-up, we haven’t really found anything that’s made a big enough difference to improve our lap time significantly. We will continue to work overnight with the data we now have and hopefully we can make more of an impression tomorrow.” The following is from Yamaha…

Valentino Rossi made a solid start to his Japanese Grand Prix weekend by riding his Fiat Yamaha M1 to third place on the opening day of action at Motegi. This weekend offers the Italian his first chance to wrap up the 2008 World Championship, which he can do by finishing third or higher on Sunday, even if Casey Stoner should win the race.

Rain greeted the paddock on arrival this morning and first practice was run on a wet track, although Rossi was fast from the off and finished the session in second place. The weather dried up this afternoon, despite remaining overcast, and the track was dry for the second session. The different conditions gave rise to a few issues for the Italian however and he lacked some front grip through the longer, slower corners, but he was still consistently fast and finished third behind Stoner and Dani Pedrosa

Rossi’s team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who has never won at this track, was quick this morning in the wet but suffered some problems on the drier track this afternoon, finishing in 15th.

Valentino Rossi

Position: 3rd Time: 1’48.510 Laps: 46

“This morning it was quite wet and we were very fast from the start. We found a good setting and the Bridgestone wet tyre worked very well for me. This afternoon in the dry however we had a few more problems and Stoner and Pedrosa were both faster than me. At the moment we’re missing a bit of front grip. This track is always quite hard and it doesn’t suit our M1 perfectly; at the moment we have some issues in the slow corners and we’re suffering a bit. Anyway, we were still third so it’s not a big problem and I am sure we will be able to improve tomorrow. I hope the weather is better for the rest of the weekend!”

To celebrate the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi this Sunday, Jorge Lorenzo’s no. 48 Fiat Yamaha will race with an unusual and original livery. The Spanish rider’s YZR-M1 will carry the image of comic-book hero Arsenio Lupin III, the celebrated ‘Gentleman Thief’ made famous in the Japanese Manga series created by Kazuhiko Kato, or ‘Monkey Punch’.

The celebratory fairing is the creation of the team’s title sponsor Fiat and the image will also appear on a limited series of Fiat 500 cars, due in the second half of 2009.

Lorenzo’s M1 will be unveiled in Pit Lane of the Motegi circuit at 0930 Japanese time on Sunday, 28th September 2008.

The following is from Suzuki…

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP racer Loris Capirossi was on the pace at Motegi in Japan during today’s free practice sessions as he clocked the fifth fastest time. Capirossi (1’48.779, 42 laps) has won the last three Motegi Grands Prix and as this afternoon’s session wore on he started to discover the form around the 4,801m Japanese circuit that has given him so much success. He worked hard with his crew and made a plethora of changes to his Suzuki GSV-R during both this morning’s wet session and the hour in the afternoon on a drying track. Capirossi is confident of more improvements as he goes in search of that fourth win in succession at Motegi.

Chris Vermeulen (1’49.664, 42 laps) recorded the 16th fastest time as he looked to obtain the optimum set-up for his machine to allow him the find the grip through Motegi’s complex layout that he was searching for. He recorded his best time on his final lap of the day as the changes that he and his crew made started to come to fruition and leave him with a clear direction for tomorrow.

Rizla Suzuki’s regular riders were joined this weekend by Test Team Rider Kousuke Akiyoshi, making his first appearance of the season. Akiyoshi (P19, 1’50.879, 36 laps) will provide valuable race data during this weekend for the Factory to assist in the development of the 2009 GSV-R, as Suzuki looks forward to next year.

This morning’s session was held in persistent rain which fortunately eased up in time for the track to dry out in the afternoon – despite very grey and overcast skies. Today’s fastest time was set by Casey Stoner on his Bridgestone equipped Ducati.

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP will have another practice session tomorrow morning with all three riders taking part in the afternoon’s qualifying session to secure the best possible grid positions for Sunday’s 24-lap race that gets underway at 14.00hrs local time (05.00hrs GMT).

Loris Capirossi:

“It has not been too bad at the end of the day because we did struggle a bit this morning in the rain to begin with, but at the end of the session we found a good solution that we were happy with. This afternoon we had the first opportunity to ride with slick tyres and even though the condition of the track is not 100% we managed to get in a whole hour in the dry and we tried many things on the bike. We made small steps every time we went out and although we are not so far from the front on positions we are quite far away on time, so we must keep working hard and try 100% to go better here. This is an important race for me because it is a special race for Suzuki and I love the track and have won the last three times here. I think maybe it will be difficult to win here again – but why not?”

Chris Vermeulen:

“In the wet this morning we struggled quite a lot to get rear grip with the bike and the guys worked really hard between the sessions to improve things, but by this afternoon it had dried out enough to use slick tyres and we had a similar problem with the bike in the fact that the set-up wasn’t exactly right. We’ve got some ideas and some important data from today so I am sure that we can come back much stronger tomorrow and be pushing a lot further forward.”

Kousuke Akiyoshi:

“I have had a few problems with the bike today and I had a crash as well which didn’t help with getting the bike set-up right. We can’t quite get the grip from the bike that we want and we still have a lot of things to sort out with engine braking and mapping as it is very inconsistent, but I know the crew will sort it out for tomorrow and we will make big steps!”

Paul Denning – Team Manager:

“Loris had a horrible weekend at Indianapolis and we had some long discussions yesterday to make sure that we lifted ourselves back to where things should be – it’s great to see him back in attacking style today and putting the GSV-R up amongst the fastest riders. There are still a large number of setting improvements we need to make, but the starting point from today is not too bad at all.

“In the only dry session we had today Chris wasn’t able to find the right solutions to let him push to the maximum, but nonetheless he improved dramatically towards the end of the session and he and Tom know exactly where the improvements can be made, so we fully expect Chris to be pushing Loris hard and up with the fastest riders tomorrow.

“It is good to see Akiyoshi san out there. As he showed here last year his level is very high but it just didn’t quite click for him today. I am sure that he will work with his crew overnight to assess the data they have collected today and come out on the attack tomorrow!”


Paul Carruthers | Editor

Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.