By Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
- Super Sic storms to top in Portugal
- Bautista returns to action
- Honda continues to be fastest bike
Marco Simocelli leads the way on first day of MotoGP Round 3 at Estoril
Honda once again topped the timing sheets after the first day of practice at round 3 of the 2011 MotoGP season at Estoril in Portugal and surprisingly it was not in the form of front runners Casey Stoner or Dani Pedrosa but their Honda colleague Marco Simoncelli on his San Carlo Honda Gresini.
'Super Sic' was unstoppable in his dominance of the first two free practice session at the Portuguese track posting the fastest time of 1m 37.663s ahead of reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo on his Yamaha YZR-M1 (1m 37.724s) - Lorenzo stalked Simocelli on the timing sheets for both sessions but couldn't break the Italian's stellar lap that is already over .300s faster than last year's fastest race lap set by Lorenzo.
The Italian is still pushing for his first podium of the year after being cruelly denied winning his first ever MotoGP race last time out in Jerez following a high-side while leading the race. Simoncelli set his fastest time on just lap five of the second session but also lost the front in a crash at turn three but despite the minor hiccup his next time was unreachable by the rest of the field.
The top two were followed closely by factory Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa who looked ominously fast in his first outing since having surgery on his shoulder to remove a bolt from a previous injury and set a best time of 1m 37.727s.
Next up was the first of the Ducati's in the form of seven time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi (1m 38.102s). Rossi is riding the GP11 with minor alterations to the engine's electrics as he and teammate Hayden (9th position -1m 38.596) continue in their search for a solution to their traction and front-end problems that saw Rossi dropping his bike at turn one of the second round of the championship in Jerez, Spain in an incident where the Italian took 2007 champion Stoner out of the race.
'The Doctor' and Stoner were locked together in fifth position with the Australian also setting a best time of 1m 38.102s. Stoner will be hoping for a better qualifying session on Saturday as he aims to make up lost ground on his rivals after not being able to re-start his bike following the incident with Rossi at Jerez.
Stoner was followed by Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards on his YZR- M1 after setting a best time of 1m 38.203s and the Texan was tracked into seventh place by the second best Ducati of the day in the form of Cardion AB Motoracing's Karel Abraham who has impressed once again on his GP11 setting a best time of 1m 38.473s.
The Czech Republic rider finished ahead of the second factory Yamaha of Ben Spies who managed a best time of 1m 38.563s and this was just good enough to finish ahead of fellow American rider and 2006 champion Nicky Hayden who set a time of 1m 38.596s despite his blistering top speed of 307.4 Km/h with only Simoncelli beating the Ducati on straightline speed.
The final top ten spot was secured by Spain's Hector Barbera on his Mapfre Aspar Ducati setting a best time of 1m 38.611s to finish just ahead of Japan's Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) with a time of 1m 38.645s. Both Barbera and Aoyama were able to finish ahead of the third Repsol Honda of Andrea Dovizioso who could only set a time of 1m 38.658s on board his RC212V.
'Dovi' was closely followed by Britain's Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who set a time of 1m 38.760s and was able to stay ahead of Tony Elias (1m 38.912s) on his LCR Honda. Next came the Pramac Racing Team Ducati pairing of Loris Capirossi (1m 39.021s) and Randy de Puniet (1m 39.137s) with both riders finishing ahead of 17th and last place man Alvaro Bautista who has made a miraculous recovery since breaking his left Femur at the first round in Qatar to set a time of 1m 40.173s in his quest to qualify to race on Sunday.
Rain has been forecast for the whole race weekend and while today's free practice sessions remained dry, minutes after the final practice session of the day the heavens opened and what can be described as 'horizontal rain' was falling on the track.