ROSSI BACK ON TOP AS THE ACTION HEATS UP IN QATAR
Newly-crowned World Champion Valentino Rossi returned to the MotoGP paddock in dominant fashion today as he clocked a record lap of the Losail International Circuit to top the time sheets on the opening day of action at the Grand Prix of Qatar. Rossi arrived in the country last night but shook off any trace of jetlag with 19 laps of the 5.380km circuit in the first free practice, with temperatures already touching 34ºC during the morning session.
The heat rose several degrees in the afternoon but so did Rossi's pace, the Italian eventually dipping under Carlos Checa's (Ducati) pole record time, set on the Yamaha YZR-M1 at last year's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix. After spending much of last weekend at Sepang trying to solve front-end grip problems with the current version of the machine, Rossi today reported major progress and admitted to enjoying riding without the pressure of a potential World Championship success hanging over him.
Rossi's Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards also showed signs of returning to his best form today, topping the time sheets for much of the afternoon session before eventually dropping to sixth place. The American had also struggled with front grip problems in Malaysia but reaped the benefits of a new range of Michelin tyres today at a circuit that saw him equal his best ever MotoGP finish of second place last season.
VALENTINO ROSSI (1st - 1'58.714; 42 laps)
"For sure myself and the whole team are more relaxed now that we have won the World Championship. We have had a lot of problems for the past two races - it has been difficult and we have never found a good setting for the bike, but here in the afternoon we found the right way. Now we have returned to the level we were at two or three races ago, I have a better feeling for the front and rear of the bike. The track conditions are better than they were last season - they're still not 100% but compared to the first practice last year there is much more grip. As long as there is no wind or rain overnight it should improve a lot more by Saturday."
COLIN EDWARDS (6th - 1'59.493; 43 laps)
"I don't know what it is about this place. At flat tracks I usually tend to struggle to get any kind of feel for the front but here it's as flat as a pancake and for some reason it works for me. We spent most of the day testing front tyres and we had a lot of help from Michelin. At the end we tried out a new front tyre but it didn't have the effect we hoped for so the lap time could have been much better than it was. I'm still having a little trouble between the braking point and the apex but this track doesn't accentuate that as much as circuits like Motegi and Sepang, so it's not so much of a worry. The main thing is that we've got grip, and when you've got grip it makes everything else much easier."
DANIELE ROMAGNOLI - COLIN EDWARDS' CREW CHIEF
"Michelin have given us a lot of different tyres to choose from here and they've really helped us out. We already had a good base set-up for the bike from last season and it seems to have worked for Colin. We have obviously had some problems at the last few races - at Sepang the conditions were very different from the tests and we were unable to use a lot of the data and at Motegi we had some front-end difficulties that we were unable to solve. We're using a different range of front tyres here and things are looking much better. When a rider doesn't have feeling with the front it makes it very difficult to set the bike up, particularly with Colin because he is so sensitive in this aspect. Hopefully this can be the start of a good weekend for us."
<pre> COMBINED FREE PRACTICE TIMES: 1. VALENTINO ROSSI (ITA) Gauloises Yamaha Team 1'58.714 2. Toni Elias (SPA) Fortuna Yamaha Team 1'58.860 3. Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol Honda Team 1'59.044 4. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Ducati Marlboro Team 1'59.152 5. Carlos Checa (SPA) Ducati Marlboro Team 1'59.466 6. COLIN EDWARDS (USA) Gauloises Yamaha Team 1'59.493 7. Marco Melandri (ITA) Movistar Honda MotoGP 1'59.568 8. John Hopkins (USA) Team Suzuki MotoGP 1'59.814 9. Max Biaggi (ITA) Repsol Honda Team 1'59.978 10. Alex Barros (BRA) Camel Honda 2'00.084