ASSEN, HOLLAND, JUNE 28 - Yamaha's Ben Spies continued his winning form at the Circuit van Drenthe by posting the fastest time in Thursday's combined practice sessions. But there was little in it. His gap to second fastest Cal Crutchlow and his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 was .006 of a second and the top 11 riders were covered by .471 of a second.
The 2011 Dutch TT winner lapped the course in 1:34.866. The time was nearly 1.3 seconds faster than the fastest in last year's Thursday afternoon session. Spies was not only fast, but consistent. He started the session with a 14-lap run all in the 1:35s, with the fastest of the string coming on the penultimate lap.
"Today was a good day, both this morning and this afternoon," Spies said. "In the second session we did almost race distance on the tires in case it rains tomorrow to be ready for Saturday. We had quick times and then tried the soft tire at the end of the session and were able to put down some quick laps with over race distance on the front tire. The bike feels good so we're going to continue on this path and try to make the bike even better for tomorrow and Saturday."
Crutchlow was riding with a broken ankle having crashed in practice for his home race at Silverstone two weeks ago. He'd spent part of the interim in a hyperbaric chamber on the Isle of Man, where he lives, to speed healing.
Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden finished within a 10th of a second of Spies. Hayden was among the first of the riders to fit the softer option Bridgestone rear, which sent him to the top of the order. But before the 45-minute session was finished, he'd get dropped by the Yamahas. Hayden wasn't worried about a fast single lap, he was worried about race distance. The Ducatis continue to exhibit excessive tire wear, so he and teammate Valentino Rossi were working on electronic solutions to the problem, but a mechanical fix was also likely needed.
"I really like the Assen track, and the weather was perfect today," Hayden said in a team release. "The team had some good ideas, and we tried a couple of things. I enjoyed riding the bike, and the day went pretty well. This morning we used the hard tire for the entire session, and I was able to improve the rhythm in the last exit, with a tire that had quite a few laps on it. This afternoon we didn't make any big adjustments because the bike is working pretty well at the moment. Tomorrow we're going to work on making the bike better at changing direction, and we'll keep trying to make it better for race distance."
Rossi spoke of the tire issues the pair were having.
"Today went pretty well, especially in the afternoon," Rossi said. "I'm eighth, but the gap to the front is only four tenths, which is a decent step forward for us. Now the bike works well with new tires, but we have to keep working on our race pace. Both Nicky and I start sliding a lot when the tire is worn, so we have to slow down too much compared to the others. Tomorrow, in order to be more consistent and improve the pace, we must try to improve rear grip without losing it at the front. Anyway, today wasn't a bad start."
Alvaro Bautista was the first Honda on the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V in fourth, only .049 of a second in front of World Championship leader Jorge Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha.
"The feeling is pretty good with the bike, we started in a good way this morning and were fastest," Lorenzo said. "In the afternoon we were fastest for most of the session, but finally the riders who switched to soft tires went in front of me. We concentrated on improving the pace with a race tire and I think we succeeded. We have a good package and I'm confident with the bike which is important."
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner followed and were separated by a tenth. Stoner spent most of the afternoon in the pits and was the only rider not to improve on his morning time. Still, he was only .325 of a second from Spies. Both of the Repsol men are still fighting chatter problems.
"We tried a few things with the bike but weren't really happy with them," Stoner said. "We tested another chassis, but haven't found many positives with it yet, in the morning if felt like we had slightly less chatter in the front. Then this afternoon no real benefit, perhaps a little worse. In FP2 we couldn't get any feeling from the rear and to be honest I felt a little nervous on the bike because from the first two exits, the bike just wanted to throw me off. Every time I touched the throttle the rear wanted to come around on me and I lost the front quite a few times - too many for my liking. Everything we're doing, trying to reduce the chatter is just making the bike difficult to ride. We're going to have to rethink things again and come out fresh tom orrow. I'm not too worried about finding the pace, it was just a little bit disappointing this afternoon".
Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Andrea Dovizioso was eighth in front of fellow Italian Rossi and the second Marlboro Ducati and Pramac Racing Ducati's Hector Barbera. Stefan Bradl rode the LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V to the 11th fastest time.
The CRT machines were next up. Power Electronics Aspar's Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet were the fastest on their ARTs.
Assen MotoGP Practice:
1. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:34.866
2. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:34.872
3. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:34.968
4. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1:35.008
5. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:35.057
6. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:35.080
7. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:35.181
8. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha) 1:35.257
9. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1:35.296
10. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 1:35.298
18. Colin Edwards (BMW-Suter) 1:37.669