Simoncelli on Top in Portugal

Henny Ray Abrams | April 29, 2011

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL, APRIL 29 – San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Marco Simoncelli crashed near the halfway point in Friday afternoon’s second free practice session at the Estoril Circuit. At the time he had a gap of just .061 of a secoind on World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, giving the Yamaha man more than 20 minutes to demote the second-year MotoGP rider. But for the final 22 minutes, only one rider made a serious attack and he, too, came up short. So Simoncelli emerged as the fastest rider on the first day of the Portuguese Grand Prix – fast in the morning, fast and flawed in the afternoon.It was the first time that Simoncelli had led either session in his MotoGP career and certainly the first time he’d led both. Since joining the premier class last year, the tall, lanky Italian has made steady progress on the Honda RC212V, which he proved by leading the rain-hit Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez four weeks ago. Simoncelli would crash out of the lead on the wet track in Spain, ruining a possible first MotoGP win, but today’s performance confirmed that he continues on the march.Simoncelli lapped the 2.6-mile, predominantly right-handed circuit in 1:37.663. Both sessions were held on a dry track, with rain starting to fall within minutes of the afternoon’s checkered flag. The initial forecast for the race weekend called for rain every day, but those same forecasts have been constantly changing, not surprising given the track’s proximity to the Atlantic coast. Now it appears the weekend could be completely rain-free.Yamaha’s Lorenzo never closed the .061 of a second gap on Simoncelli. The World Champion didn’t increase his speed in the second half of the session and had to settle for second, which he nearly lost. Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa made a late move that took him to within .003 of a second of Lorenzo’s time. Pedrosa was a question mark coming to Jerez, having come off surgery on his left shoulder just after the Spanish GP in Jerez. Whether the shoulder will hold up over race distance remains to be seen, but this was certainly an encouraging start.Valentino Rossi and the rider he replaced on the Ducati Marlboro team finished tied for fourth with identical times. Both Rossi and Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner lapped in 1:38.102, with Stoner’s lap coming late in the session.Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards was both the top American and the top non-factory rider. The Texan was fourth and just a tenth of a second off the time set by Stoner and Rossi.Then came Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham. The Ducati-mounted Czech MotoGP rookie finished the session and day seventh fastest, the best of his three-race-old MotoGP career.Behind him came the two other Americans with Yamaha’s Ben Spies just in front of Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden. The difference between them was .033 of a second.Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP’s Hector Barbera was the last rider in the top 10 on his Ducati.

Combined Practice Results:

1. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1:37.663

2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:37.724

3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:37.727

4. (TIE) Valentino Rossi (Ducati)/Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:38.102

6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:38.203

7. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 1:38.743

8. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:38.563

9. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:38.596

10. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:38.611


Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.