MOTEGI, JAPAN, OCT 1 – Almost lost in the aftermath of Dani Pedrosa’s title-killing crash was that Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi was the surprise fastest rider in Friday morning practice at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan.A day earlier Rossi had said the stop-and-go, hard braking track would be torturous to his still damaged right shoulder. But in the one hour session, held in warm sunshine, Rossi was back to his old self. It helped that at Motegi he had an upgraded engine, Yamaha’s response to being beaten in the top speed wars much of the year.The nine-time world champion not only clocked the fastest time on the day, but he did it with some cushion. His lap of 1:48.174 mins. was fastest by .213 secs. over second fastest Andrea Dovizioso, now the lone Repsol Honda rider in the absence of Pedrosa. Pedrosa crashed in the Turn 9 “V-Corner” hairpin on his second flying lap. A number of theories have emerged as to the cause of the crash, but none is definitive. Pedrosa’s manager, Alberto Puig, said on Spanish television that the throttle had stuck open and Pedrosa had to jump off the bike. He suffered a triple fracture of his left collarbone and was to fly home to Spain for an operation as soon as the swelling subsided. He’s almost certain to miss next week’s race in Sepang, Malaysia, but may try to return at Phillip Island in two weeks’ time. Pedrosa’s injury and absence almost certainly solidifies the title for Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha).Meanwhile, Rossi stepped in to fill the gap. Since returning from his broken leg in the mid-July German Grand Prix, Rossi has struggled more with his shoulder than his leg. The last time he was fastest in a session was on Friday morning in Mugello, the day before he broke his leg.”Today is a big surprise for me,” Rossi said. “I didn’t expect to be so fast in this track. I expect to suffer a lot more with the shoulder. Here we have hard braking, but you stop the bike in a straight line. I don’t suffer too much when I stop the bike like this. I suffer too much when I have to brake on the edge.”The shoulder is quite good and I can stay in front. It is a little but like Formula One now in MotoGP. Sometimes your bike can use properly the tires and you’re so fast like today. But sometimes like in Aragon you can’t use properly the tires and you’re in big trouble. Sometimes you are good and sometimes bad, but it depends on the track.”As for the engine, Rossi said, “I’m happy because Yamaha worked well and the engine is faster, especially in fourth, fifth and sixth gear. The difference is bigger here than when we checked in Brno. Brno is a wide track and very fast so it looked like there was not so much difference. But it looks not so bad. More than acceleration is fourth, fifth and sixth, it pushes better at the top.”Rossi’s teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, didn’t have use of the new engine. The new power-up motor will be the last of Lorenzo’s six for the season, including the one that blew up spectacularly in Germany. He won’t try his new motor until qualifying and will only use it in the morning warm-ups and races for the final five rounds.Lorenzo said there were some problems with traction, “but in general we are not bad.”Stoner was fourth fastest and not far off the pace. He’d initially gone out with the settings from his win in Aragon two weeks ago, but that was a “disaster. We had to change the bike quite a bit to suit a circuit that’s more stop and go. But everything we did seemed to make some good points and bad points. The first changes we made was a huge step for us. Made the bike feel a lot better. We went quite fast. But then each step after that we seemed to gain one point, but then lose a little bit in another point. So we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance for the bike tomorrow. Where it works, a little bit all around. We had the bike working quite well on the brakes, but then the rear just didn’t seem to be following the front so well going into the corners. So we’ve got to improve that situation a little bit.”Also, towards the end of our session our rear tire was getting worse and worse. We didn’t have a lot of grip on the right side and I think with the harder tire we would’ve found the situation to be a little better. So we’ll try this again tomorrow, see how we go. If it’s try, yeah, we’ll get on the hard tire and everything should be a little better and maybe it was just from the hard tire.”Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Ben Spies was fifth fastest and narrowly faster than Interwetten Honda MotoGP’s Hiroshi Aoyama. Colin Edwards was seventh.
Spies suffered a low speed crash, but was otherwise happy to be in top five at a track he’d never seen before this weekend.
“This track isn’t super technical and it doesn’t really help us much with all the stop and go sections that hurt us a little bit on speed,” he said. “It was a little tricky learning the track because the conditions don’t seem to be what everybody is used to. So it was even trickier for me trying to build up trust in some corners. I used the soft front tire at the start of the session and I wasn’t too keen on it. I came in for the hard tire, but the team wanted me to do one more stint on the soft and on the second lap of that run I got in deep at turn three. I had to let off the brake to gather it back up but I was trying to keep the bike on the t rack because I didn’t want to get into the gravel with all the rain we’d had yesterday. As soon as I got to the edge of the track I lost the front. I was only going really slow, probably like 10ks, but I landed really hard on my left elbow on the curb. It’s not too painful and shouldn’t be a problem for me on the bike. It kind of proved that I didn’t like the soft front tire but the hard one felt good on the spare bike and the rest of the session went pretty smooth.”For Edwards, “It was a decent start and I’m reasonably happy because we tried a new setting today to try and help with a wheelie issue that we’ve always seemed to struggle with at this track. You’ve got all this hard acceleration out of low gear corners and we’ve always found it difficult to control wheelies here. I remember last year it felt like the whole weekend was wheelie management, so we put a lot of weight on the front end today and it felt good. We were actually moving forward out of the corner under acceleration, so we might have found something that can help us at a few other tracks. Without having to concentrate so much on stopping the wheelie problem, I can focus on accelerating a bit harder and that is helping us a lot. I was really close to sixth and not far behind Ben, so hopefully this is the start of a good weekend for me.”Friday Practice Results:
1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:48.174
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:48.387
3. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:48.474
4. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:48.481
5. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:49.302
6. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 1:49.357
7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:49.377
8. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:49.544
9. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:49.568
10. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1:49.581
13. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:49.882