He may be facing an uphill struggle in his quest to keep his World Championship hopes alive, but more could not have been asked of Casey Stoner on Friday in Motegi. The Ducati rider recorded the quickest time of the day in the combined Free Practice standings for the A-Style Grand Prix of Japan, with a 1´48.121 lap of the track at which he reached the pinnacle of MotoGP achievement in 2007.
Stoner was seven-hundredths of a second faster than the only other rider with the chance to deny Valentino Rossi a sixth premier class title, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard had experienced a difficult morning on a damp track as he adjusted his Motegi setup to Bridgestone tires, but was on fine form during the afternoon run. Pedrosa’s pace and teammate Nicky Hayden’s morning times will be a positive boost for Honda, who have not had a home winner at Motegi since Makoto Tamada's 2004 triumph.
Title favorite Rossi was also on the pace on Friday, just under four-tenths of a second slower than Stoner’s quickest lap. The Fiat Yamaha rider had expressed interest in how Michelin-shod riders would fare on-track this weekend in the Thursday press conference, but he formed part of an all-Bridgestone top three on day one. The Fiat Yamaha rider made it three different factories in the top trio, with the news emerging that he will test the 2009 M1 on Monday –perhaps with his sixth MotoGP World Championship already confirmed.
Andrea Dovizioso was the highest placing satellite rider in fourth, and also the fastest man on Michelin rubber in the afternoon run. He formed part of an extremely tightly packed group of riders separated by under a tenth of a second, including race winner from the past three visits to Motegi Loris Capirossi, Alice Team’s Sylvain Guintoli and 2006 World Champion Hayden, the most mercurial rider on track in the first practice session.
Marco Melandri took the second Ducati Desmosedici GP8 round in the eighth quickest time of the day, placing ahead of 2007 podium finishers Toni Elias and Randy de Puniet in the top ten.
1 C. STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro Team 1'48.121 2 D. PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team + 0.073 3 V. ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team + 0.389 4 A. DOVIZIOSO ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP + 0.649 5 L. CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 0.658 6 S. GUINTOLI FRA Alice Team + 0.673 7 N. HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team + 0.679 8 M. MELANDRI ITA Ducati Marlboro Team + 0.824 9 T. ELIAS SPA Alice Team + 0.853 10 R. DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP + 1.028 11 S. NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini + 1.069 12 J. HOPKINS USA Kawasaki Racing Team + 1.076 13 C. EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha + 1.223 14 J. TOSELAND GBR Tech 3 Yamaha + 1.303 15 J. LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team + 1.384 16 C. VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 1.543 17 A. WEST AUS Kawasaki Racing Team + 2.010 18 A. DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini + 2.037 19 K. AKIYOSHI JPN Rizla Suzuki MotoGP + 2.758
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