Reigning MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner opened the first competitive activity of 2008 with a comprehensive victory in the BMW M Award qualifying shootout, which took place just after 2pm at an uncharacteristically wet Circuito de Jerez.
Stoner needed just five laps onboard his Ducati Desmosedici GP8 to ensure that the BMW Z4 M Roadster would be heading to Australia, clocking an early lap of 1’49.263 that was unrivalled by any of his fellow MotoGP riders.
Whilst the winner of the 40-minute timed session is rarely the man lifting the World Championship trophy at the end of the season, the early dominance was a clear stamp of authority by the 22 year-old and will cause his rivals a few sleepless nights ahead of the first race in Qatar on March 9th.
The current title holder’s performance put to bed any doubts as to whether either himself or tyre manufacturers Bridgestone would be competitive at the Spanish circuit after an slower day for both parties yesterday. In a mixture of qualifying and race tyres on the opening day of the MotoGP Official Test, Michelin had occupied every place in the top five, and Stoner was comparatively off the pace. His scorching lap today also renders questions as to his ability at Jerez – where he injured his shoulder in the final test of 2007 - all but obsolete.
The session began with Stoner undertaking the first five of his total of nine laps, and his opening outing already put him at the head of the standings. It also saw a first head-to-head battle with Valentino Rossi, with some ‘mind games’ taking place on track just five minutes into the session. After setting down his marker, Stoner then returned to the pits and watched the action unfold for over a quarter of an hour, eventually re-emerging for a further four laps worthy of the BMW prize.
In contrast to the 2007 edition of the event, there was to be no late drama in Jerez from Valentino Rossi. Whilst the Italian put himself up into second place with only time for one lap remaining, a final push never materialised on the still unfamiliar Bridgestone qualifying tyres for the five-time MotoGP World Champion. Twice a winner of the preseason prize, Rossi had to settle for the unrewarded runner-up spot with a time over a second slower than that of his Australian rival.
2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden also had a late but unfruitful attempt at a Stoner-challenging lap, finishing third fastest after topping the timesheets yesterday. The ‘Kentucky Kid’ was the leading Michelin rider in the 40 minute session.
A wet weather specialist, Anthony West fancied his chances of a competitive time, although the drying-out track didn’t give him enough of an advantage to really challenge his countryman Stoner. The Kawasaki rider set his quickest time at the midway point in the session, but still held off the likes of Andrea Dovizioso and Shinya Nakano in the top six.
West’s team-mate John Hopkins elected against an appearance in the session owing to his ongoing groin injury pain, as fellow member of the injured contingent Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. As per a change in format for the season-long version of the BMW M Award, both remain eligible for the qualifying total prize.
There were run-offs for Alex De Angelis, James Toseland and Loris Capirossi, whilst the remainder of the top ten consisted of the Italian veteran, LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet, Alice Team newcomer Sylvain Guintoli on the second fastest Ducati machine, and factory rider Marco Melandri.
Following the session there was very little activity before race direction called an early halt to proceedings due to high winds at the southern Spanish circuit. Tomorrow will see a final day of MotoGP practice at the Jerez track.
1. Casey Stoner AUS Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 1min 49.263 secs
2. Valentino Rossi ITA Fiat Yamaha Team (B) 1min 50.580 secs
3. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol Honda Team (M) 1min 50.785 secs
4. Anthony West AUS Kawasaki Racing Team (B) 1min 50.799 secs
5. Andrea Dovizioso ITA JiR Scot Team (M) 1min 51.312 secs
6. Shinya Nakano JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 1min 51.594 secs
7. Loris Capirossi ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 1min 51.894 secs
8. Randy de Puniet FRA LCR Honda MotoGP (M) 1min 51.979 secs
9. Sylvain Guintoli FRA Alice Team (B) 1min 52.058 secs
10. Marco Melandri ITA Ducati Marlboro Team (B) 1min 52.238 secs
11. Alex de Angelis RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini (B) 1min 52.463 secs
12. James Toseland GBR Yamaha Tech 3 (M) 1min 52.755 secs
13. Chris Vermeulen AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP (B) 1min 52.779 secs
14. Colin Edwards USA Yamaha Tech 3 (M) 1min 52.826 secs
15. Olivier Jacque FRA Kawasaki Test Rider (B) 1min 53.283 secs
16. Jorge Lorenzo SPA Fiat Yamaha Team (M) 1min 53.292 secs
17. Vittoriano Guareschi ITA Ducati Test Rider (B) 1min 54.694 secs
18. Nicola Canepa ITA Ducati Test Rider (B) 1min 57.453 secs
19. Toni Elias SPA Alice Team (B) 1min 57.698 secs
DID NOT RIDE
Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team (M) no time
John Hopkins USA Kawasaki Racing Team (B) no time