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Laguna Seca: Stoner tops Friday practice
MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner completed the first day of practice at Laguna Seca with a new circuit record.

The backstory for the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix in place, Friday July 18th was the first rehearsal for the MotoGP riders. Over the course of two sessions, the 800cc competitors undertook the first practice runs of the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with their 2008 machines, whilst some were literally learning their lines.

Casey Stoner was the fastest rider in both the sessions on the opening day of action, as he was at the past three rounds in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. His rivals will need no reminding that on all three occasions the Ducati Marlboro man has gone on to win the Sunday race.

Stoner’s fastest time was taken in the afternoon outing, when he stopped the clock with a blistering 1´21.826 lap some 0.149 under the previous circuit record (already broken by Stoner in the morning session.). The existing marker had been set by the Australian himself in the warm-up session for the 2007 race, a Grand Prix at which he dominated the field in impressive fashion at every opportunity.

In two years of riding at the Laguna Seca, Stoner’s fastest time of the weekend has never come during qualifying. Thus, the fact that he ended the day over eight-tenths of a second quicker than second-placed Nicky Hayden could be an ominous sign for those seeking to deny him a fifth consecutive pole position in Saturday’s shootout.

Hayden pushed his way to the upper echelons of the timesheet with his last of 34 afternoon laps of his favorite circuit, at which he won both the 2005 & 2006 races. The Repsol Honda rider was the highest placing Michelin rider of the Friday sessions, and the only man using French rubber in the top six.

In third place in the combined free practice standings, Valentino Rossi was one of only two riders –the other being Kawasaki wildcard Jamie Hacking- to not improve upon his time in the afternoon run. Fiat Yamahas World Championship leader was a further 0.045 down on Stoner’s time with his fastest morning lap.

Having only been a spectator at last year’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, Alex de Angelis was showing no signs of struggling to get to grips with the Laguna Seca circuit. San Carlo Gresini Honda’s MotoGP rookie was fourth on Friday, ahead of 2007 race runner-up Chris Vermeulen and his Honda satellite teammate Shinya Nakano.

Home rider Colin Edwards and JiR Team Scot´s Andrea Dovizioso were joined by Alice Team’s Toni Elias and Rizla Suzuki man Loris Capirossi in completing the top ten.

In eleventh place was Ben Spies, one of the busiest riders of the day owing to his double duty with the AMA Superbike championship. Competing on a third Rizla Suzuki GSV-R, Spies picked himself up from a morning crash to finish respectably in the combined Friday classification. In a good sign for the home rider, his MotoGP time was nearly 1.5 seconds quicker than that taken in the practice for his `day job´ with the GSX-R machine.

The afternoon session was red flagged with 21 minutes remaining, courtesy of a crash by Kawasaki’s Anthony West that required the re-inflation of the airfence impacted by his Ninja ZX-RR. The Australian was uninjured in the lowside despite the length of his skid into the gravel, although his number one bike will require some repair work ahead of the two Saturday sessions. There were also run-offs for Elias and LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet.

Friday practice times
1 C. STONER AUS Ducati Team 1'21.826
2 N. HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team + 0.808
3 V. ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team + 0.943
4 A. DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini + 0.982
5 C. VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.021
6 S. NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini + 1.098
7 C. EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha + 1.251
8 A. DOVIZIOSO ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP + 1.271
9 T. ELIAS SPA Alice Team + 1.288
10 L. CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.359
11 B. SPIES USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.418
12 M. MELANDRI ITA Ducati Team + 1.491
13 J. LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team + 1.589
14 S. GUINTOLI FRA Alice Team + 1.669
15 D. PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team + 1.881
16 J. TOSELAND GBR Tech 3 Yamaha + 2.117
17 R. DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP + 2.129
18 J. HACKING USA Kawasaki Racing Team + 2.545
19 A. WEST AUS Kawasaki Racing Team + 2.657

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