In good conditions at Estoril, on the opening day of the bwin.com Grande Prmio de Portugal, it was Fiat Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo who set the pace in MotoGP free practice with a best time of 1’37.185s in the closing stages, after heading the timesheet for most of the session.
Lorenzo needs to pile as much pressure as possible on his Fiat Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi this weekend to stay in the title hunt and the Spanish star will be happy to have started practice in first place, at a venue where he took his first MotoGP win last year.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa was the second quickest participant, demonstrating his pace once again with a 1’37.544 time which was 0.359s down on Lorenzo’s hot lap.
Rossi will not be too disappointed to have commenced the Estoril weekend in third place, with a similar time to Pedrosa’s best, 0.421s behind his championship rival Lorenzo – at a circuit where he has scored five premier class wins.
The story of the weekend was the return of former world champ Casey Stoner, who was back on track after a three-round break to recover from fatigue problems. The Australian took his beloved Desmosedici GP9 machine round in a best time of 1’37.966 as the fastest Ducati rider on Friday.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3′s Colin Edwards was fifth and top private team rider, a position he has found himself in on several occasions in 2009, going round in just over 1’38 on the satellite Yamaha M1 which it has been confirmed he will ride again next year.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) and Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) were sixth and seventh respectively, whilst James Toseland (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) made a late surge from lower down the order into eighth place. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alex de Angelis and Pramac Racing’s Mika Kallio completed the top ten.
The fastest 250cc competitor of the day was Héctor Barberá, as he took his Pepe World Team Aprilia machine around the Estoril track in 1’40.777, to lead the way by more than half a second.
Closest to Barberá on the timesheet was his compatriot Alex Debon (Aeropuerto-Castello-Blusens), who was 0.55s off the pace. Mike di Meglio (Mapfre Aspar) and Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing were third and fourth fastest, ahead of World Champion Marco Simoncelli (Metis Gilera) in the top five.
World Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Racing Team) was down in the recently unfamiliar territory of tenth place, with Álvaro Bautista (Mapfre Aspar Team) also looking slightly out of sorts in sixth.
A weekend which could conclude with Julián Simón being crowned as the 2009 125cc World Champion commenced with the Spaniard registering the fastest lap by a 1.078s margin in the single cylinder free practice.
The Bancaja Aspar rider has his first mathematical chance of winning the World Championship in Portugal, but he would need his two closest rivals – Nico Terol and Bradley Smith – to both have an off-form weekend.
Indeed, although it is only early in proceedings, Simón’s 1’45.880 hot lap at the end of the session, coupled with a crash for Smith which saw his practice cut short as he ended up down in 18th place and a sixth fastest start for Terol, could be telling signs. Smith did not finish the session but only has bruised feet from the accident.
The rider getting nearest to Simón on the timesheet was Andrea Iannone (Ongetta Team I.S.P.A.) with a 1’46.958 lap, the only other rider to go round under the 1’47 mark. Also in the top five and all within 0.2s of Iannone were Sergio Gadea (Bancaja Aspar), Marc Márquez (Red Bull KTM) and Simone Corsi (Fontana Racing).