Casey Stoner laid down the foundations for a potential MotoGP championship-winning weekend in front of his home crowd as he set the pace in opening practice for the Australian GP.
Stoner needs to leave Phillip Island with a 50-point advantage over his nearest rival – reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo – and if he wins with the Spaniard lower than third the Australian will regain the crown he lost to Valentino Rossi in 2008. Stoner began the weekend in determined fashion, heading the 45-minute session from the outset in spite of an early spill.
Weather conditions were picture perfect on this most glorious of bike tracks, but with rumors of poor weather coming in later on Friday, the teams wanted to get on with it in FP1.
The championship leader wasted no time at all in signaling his intentions on home ground, posting a 1m30.475s lap (that's within half a second of last year's pole) on only his second full lap. But while he demonstrated this instant searing pace, Stoner also allowed in a moment of weakness as he dropped the factory RC212V at Honda Hairpin less than 10 minutes into the session. It was a gentle, slow-speed kind of incident and Stoner's pain was limited only to that of the emotional kind as he trundled his virtually unblemished bike back to the pits.
Just moments later, Marco Simoncelli, who had gone second fastest, also crashed in similar circumstances at Turn 10.
Twenty minutes into the session and both those riders had returned to the track just as Lorenzo moved up to second position. The reigning champ then filed in a number of laps that edged him closer to Stoner, but even his 1m30.811s best in this period was slower than the times the Honda man was still posting – even if they were being produced with no small amount of flamboyance.
Lorenzo had another try at the end of the session and improved to a 1m30.744s – still more than 0.3sec off Stoner's mark.
Simoncelli ended up third fastest ahead of an impressive Colin Edwards on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa were fifth and sixth on the other HRC Hondas with Nicky Hayden a surprising seventh on the factory Ducati. Ben Spies, Hiroshi Aoyama and Loris Capirossi completed the top 10.
Rossi had a quiet session, ending it in 12th position, just ahead of Suzuki's Alvaro Bautista.
Karel Abraham had a late crash on his Cardion Ducati on route to 15th, while Damian Cudlin – replacing Asper's Hector Barbera, who suffered a broken collarbone in his Motegi crash – was last, four seconds off the pace.
Pos Rider Team/Bike Time Gap
1. Casey Stoner Honda 1m30.475s
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m30.744s + 0.269s
3. Marco Simoncelli Gresini Honda 1m30.951s + 0.476s
4. Colin Edwards Tech 3 Yamaha 1m31.480s + 1.005s
5. Andrea Dovizioso Honda 1m31.532s + 1.057s
6. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m31.571s + 1.096s
7. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m31.662s + 1.187s
8. Ben Spies Yamaha 1m31.824s + 1.349s
9. Hiroshi Aoyama Gresini Honda 1m31.935s + 1.460s
10. Loris Capirossi Pramac Ducati 1m32.052s + 1.577s
11. Randy de Puniet Pramac Ducati 1m32.096s + 1.621s
12. Valentino Rossi Ducati 1m32.114s + 1.639s
13. Alvaro Bautista Suzuki 1m32.393s + 1.918s
14. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m32.583s + 2.108s
15. Karel Abraham Cardion Ducati 1m32.615s + 2.140s
16. Toni Elias LCR Honda 1m33.641s + 3.166s
17. Damian Cudlin Aspar Ducati 1m34.121s + 3.646s