Valentino Rossi was fastest in the opening MotoGP practice session on Friday afternoon as the Iveco Australian Grand Prix got off to an intriguing start, with his title rival Jorge Lorenzo having a disappointing first outing of the weekend.
In cool, calm conditions Rossi set the standard early on, with a pacy lap, as the Italian responded to Fiat Yamaha team-mate Lorenzo’s dominance at Estoril last time out.
Lorenzo sat out much of the early part of the session as he adjusted his YZR-M1 machine, watching his rival for the title clock a time of 1’31.032s on a track the reigning World Champion holds close to his heart.
The Spaniard’s session then ended in disappointment as a low-side slide out brought his afternoon to an untimely finish, with five minutes remaining. Lorenzo’s time of 1’32.077s – leaving him just over a second off Rossi’s pace – placed him in sixth for the day.
Casey Stoner, with his fine record over the past two years at Phillip Island and celebrating his 24th birthday, was much closer to Rossi’s marker as he came in second – 0.135s behind – despite being dissatisfied with the pressure of his tyres. The Aussie is chasing down Dani Pedrosa in the title standings and the Repsol Honda man was third fastest as he finished almost half a second off Rossi’s pace in 1’31.528s.
Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) was up with the pace and finished fourth, 0.754s behind Rossi’s time, whilst Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards was next in line by a margin of 0.06s. Edwards’ team-mate James Toseland was going well until he crashed out midway through the session, but the Brit climbed back aboard his bike and clocked a time of 1’32.255s to take seventh position.
The top ten was completed by Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda), Mika Kallio – the Pramac rider recovered from an early crash to finish just over 1.5s behind Rossi – and Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki).
Niccolo Canepa had a painful crash on his Ducati, and after assessment at the Clinica Mobile the Pramac Racing rookie has been declared unfit to continue this weekend.
Héctor Barberá set the fastest lap of the first practice session for the 250cc class, clocking a time of 1’34.338s, but his Friday afternoon was also cut short with a nasty high-side crash.
The Pepe World Team rider completed 17 laps before a sharp front traction sent him flying over the top of his machine, and Barberá slowly rose to his feet before being taken to the Clinica Mobile on a stretcher. A diagnosis of bruising to his back was a relief for the Spaniard, who suffered a serious back injury in Japan last year, which cut short his season.
Despite his inability to continue, Barberá’s pace was such that it left him over half a second ahead of the rest of the field, with Raffaele de Rosa’s time of 1’34.911s the closest, leaving the Scot Racing man ahead of third-placed Jules Cluzel (Matteoni Racing) who was 0.016s behind.
Championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama – who could claim the title in Australia if he wins – was eleventh fastest in a slow session for the category’s top three riders, with a 0.217s deficit on tenth-placed Marco Simoncelli (Metis Gilera), whose fastest lap of 1’35.318s was just shy of a full second off Barberá’s pace. Álvaro Bautista (Mapfre Aspar) trailed in 12th behind Aoyama, who leads him in the title standings.
Mapfre Aspar rider Mike de Meglio was fourth fastest on the day with a best lap of 1’35.013s, and Honda SAG’s Hector Faubel was next in line.
Pol Espargaró set the standard in the 125cc category, leaving Julián Simón fourth fastest in the first free practice session as the Bancaja Aspar rider bids to claim the 125cc World Championship this weekend.
Espargaró’s time of 1’38.435 on his final lap of the session saw him finish 0.381s ahead of Simón, with the title hopeful’s team-mate Bradley Smith recording the second-fastest time and Nico Terol (Jack & Jones) in third. Both Smith and Terol have a say in whether Simón can take the title this weekend, but it was the in-form Espargaró who led the pace for the majority of the session before bettering his own time on the final lap of the session.
Smith overcame a struggling start to nudge himself ahead of Terol by a 0.027s margin as the session closed with the top four all coming in under the 1’39 mark, while Marc Márquez made up the top five with his KTM, 0.3s off Simón’s time.
Saturday’s qualifying sessions at the Iveco Australian Grand Prix take place at 1pm local time for the 125cc riders, 1.55pm for MotoGP and 3.10pm for the 250cc class.