Ducati Marlboro Team riders Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden started out the Malaysian Grand Prix on the front foot at Sepang, with the Australian second and the American eighth fastest in the first free practice session this afternoon.
Stoner demonstrated his improved strength
and stamina in the gruelling conditions, with 31ºC ambient temperatures and 53% humidity, by lapping on the cusp of circuit record pace and improving throughout the 45-minute session – clocking his best time on his final lap, which was just 0.064 seconds shy of the day's pacesetter Jorge Lorenzo.
"The lap times are surprisingly good considering the track conditions, which are definitely suffering from the heat and feel much less grippy than usual here. I'm happy with our pace and with my physical condition; even though it was hard work out there and I was tired by the end of the session, I don't think I was any worse off than anybody else and it is a different world compared to the way I felt at hot races earlier in the year”, he said. “Having said that, I didn't feel at all comfortable with the setting on either bike. Every time I went out there was a small problem holding us back – at first it was with the front chattering and folding, then we lost grip on the rear. There was no use staying out there on a bike that needed to be set up better so I had to keep coming in, which disrupted our rhythm and didn't give me chance to establish any kind of feeling. We made progress step by step but we need a better base to start off with tomorrow in order to prepare properly for the race.”
Hayden also made gradual improvements and, like Stoner, he set his best lap time on his final effort, falling just 0.067 seconds short of another Spaniard in Toni Elias in seventh place.
“I know my position isn't great but this is still the best Friday I've had in a while and we're only just over a second off the front, which isn't that much around this circuit, so I'm pleased”, he said. “We made a change to the electronics today, which has improved my feeling for the bike, and I was able to lap consistently inside the top ten throughout the session, whereas usually I'm much further off in the first session. Obviously there are a lot of areas we need to improve, like every Friday, but in particular we need to look at why I am fourth from bottom on the top speed charts. That's strange because we know we have a strong bike so we'll try and fix that tonight because I'd certainly rather be fourth from the top! In general it's a good start and I'm eager to see how much we can improve with ninety minutes on track tomorrow.”