Le Mans : MotoGP – Day One
Honda Gresini rider Marco Melandri ended the first day of the Alice Grand Prix de France at the top of the MotoGP free practice timesheets, at a track where he took victory last year.
The former 250cc World Champion recorded a time of 1'35.319
on the 15th of 22 laps during the hour long afternoon session at Le Mans, which ended at 2.50pm local time.
Circuit best times have been set today by 250cc and 125cc riders but the MotoGP grid appear to be taking their time in becoming accustomed to the famous French track onboard their 800cc machinery. Melandri's time was 1.329s off the 990cc pace of last year when Dani Pedrosa set a circuit best lap to take pole for the 2006 French Grand Prix.
Repsol Honda's Pedrosa was second quickest in this afternoon's practice session, lapping just 0.148s slower than Melandri, behind whom he finished third last season in his first premier class Le Mans race. The young Spaniard has a fantastic record at the French circuit and after showing good pace throughout the Friday sessions he will be confident of achieving a good qualifying position for Sunday's race tomorrow afternoon.
Just 0.031s slower than Pedrosa in this session was another Honda representative, Carlos Checa, who has mounted the premier class podium several times on French soil. Many observers were predicting another weekend of Ducati and Yamaha dominance in France but Friday's proceedings have provided encouraging signs for the Honda teams.
American pair Colin Edwards (Fiat Yamaha) and John Hopkins (Rizla Suzuki) were fourth and fifth fastest, both lapping just four tenths of a second slower than Melandri, whilst current World Championship front runner Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro) was just behind them in sixth.
Valentino Rossi was seventh fastest overall on Friday with his time in the morning session more than half a second better than his afternoon best.
The afternoon session's seventh fastest participant Toni Elias (eighth fastest overall on the day) could not quite manage to keep pace with his colleague Melandri, as he aims to bounce back from his Chinese debacle - though the young Spaniard lapped less than half a second slower than his team-mate.
In what is proving to be a difficult title defence season Nicky Hayden would have encouraged by his morning showing as the third fastest rider, but he slipped to ninth overall in the afternoon as he was unable to beat his earlier best time.
Unsurprisingly Kawasaki Racing's replacement rider Fonsi Nieto props up the timesheets - lapping 3.508s slower than Melandri - as he feels his way round Le Mans on unfamiliar 800cc machinery.