Stoner Starts Fast in Jerez

Henny Ray Abrams | April 1, 2011

Honda’s domination of the 2011 MotoGP season continued on the windy first day of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, but today there was a twist: Valentino Rossi interrupted the Honda parade by finishing third fastest, his best placing to date on the Ducati Marlboro Desmosedici GP11 as the MotoGP World Championship returned to its European roots.Qatar race winner Casey Stoner was fastest on the basis of his first session time. Stoner’s lap of 1:39.551 was .028 of a second faster than the 1:39.579 lap run by Jerez master Dani Pedrosa, also from the first session. (Pedrosa was the fastest rider in the afternoon session, but the afternoon times were generally slower than the morning times.)Stoner’s performance kept alive Honda’s extraordinary and unprecedent dominance: A Honda rider has been fastest in every session this season, a streak that includes eight days of pre-season testing and the season-opening Qatar GP. And most sessions Hondas finished first and second.”The first session went well and I had a good feeling with the bike, we tried to repeat this in the afternoon session but the conditions weren’t perfect – it was quite windy,” Stoner said in a team release. “It seems to be a little smoother to ride here than in the past, but it’s a shame the weather wasn’t better so we could spend some time working on the settings. In general both bikes we tried seemed to work pretty well and we’ll pick up from there tomorrow to concentrate on the set-up. The grip level doesn’t seem to be so good here, I think everyone is struggling with this so that’s another element we need to work on tomorrow in time for qualifying.”In his five-year MotoGP career, Pedrosa has never qualified worse than second on the 2.748-mile Andalucian circuit; he has two poles and three second place starting positions. His last year in 250s he was also on the pole. Nor has he finished worse than second in a MotoGP race; he has a win and four seconds. He also holds the circuit record lap time from last year’s race.But on the eve of the race, the team announced that Pedrosa will have to undergo surgery to correct a lingering condition caused by his left collarbone double fracture from last year’s Japanese Grand Prix. The condition caused him to lose feeling in his arm in the latter stages of the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix. Since he isn’t affected until the arm has been put under stress for an extended period of time, he’s still able to ride at his best for short to medium bursts.The same is true of Rossi. The Italian continues to recovery from November surgery to correct the damage to his right shoulder done by an April motocross crash. Rossi doesn’t expect to be fully fit for this race, but the closer he is to full fitness the better he can evaluate the Ducati. Though he finished third in combined practice, he was half a second down on Pedrosa. Still, he had to be encouraged that he could put the rest of the 17-rider field behind him.Next fastest was Rossi’s friend Marco Simoncelli. The San Carlo Honda Gresini rider was a tenth slower and also a quarter second faster than Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo. The defending race champion and outright fast lap record-holder-his pole time from 2008 still stands-had only .009 sec. on the fourth Honda in the top six, Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso.Yamaha’s Ben Spies was seventh fastest and 1.336 seconds off Stoner’s time. The Texan was the quickest of four Americans and a tenth up on Pramac Racing Team’s Randy de Puniet.De Puniet was closely trailed by two of the remaining three Yanks. Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden was ninth, and a second slower than his teammate Rossi, with Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards slower than Hayden by .005 of a second. and the first non-factory rider.”We tried a bit of an experimental set-up with one bike we thought would work to help with the turning performance, but it didn’t quite give us the result we were anticipating,” Edwards said. “It worked in some areas, but it created some other issues, so we’ll go back to more of a similar set-up to what we ran in Qatar for tomorrow and we know that works. I was actually faster using the different setting but I just don’t feel I can run that pace consistently over a race distance.”What made it really difficult today was the wind. It was really gusting hard in some places, so you just had to be pretty careful because it wa s easy to get caught out. You just had to pay attention and get a feel for which way the wind was blowing because at least it was consistent in one direction.”John Hopkins, the last American, finished 17th in his return to MotoGP after a two-year absence. After his first full day on a MotoGP bike since riding the Kawasaki at the end of the 2008 season, Hopkins was more than three seconds off the pace. Hopkins was seventh-his second best finish of the season-in his last appearance in Jerez in 2008.

Friday Combined Practice:

1. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:39.551

2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:39.579

3. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1:40.077

4. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 1:40.176

5. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:40.420

6. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:40.429

7. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:40.887

8. Randy de Puniet (Ducati) 1:40.982

9. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:41.058

10. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:41.063

11. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 1:41.292

12. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 1:41.304

13. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:41.601

14. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 1:41.810

15. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:41.854

16. Toni Elias (Honda) 1:42.157

17. John Hopkins (Suzuki) 1:42.305



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.