Valentino Rossi was quicker than Casey Stoner in the first free practice session for the Polini Grand Prix of Japan. That was the result that everyone was awaiting after the latter’s dominance in Qatar, but the Italian’s fight back doesn’t tell the whole story.
Reigning world champion and 2008 race winner Rossi left his final push to the last possible moment, cutting more than half a second off his previous best time in the session to edge out the current series leader. The Italian stopped the clock at 1:48.545 to bring an end to Stoner’s perfect record in practice, qualifying and warm-up sessions in 2009.
Ducati Marlboro man Stoner threw himself into the challenge with an early 1:48.601 lap of the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, but elected to return to the garage instead of returning fire once Rossi had taken the advantage.
Rossi’s Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo had expressed his desire to record times closer to those of Stoner in the run-up to Japan and, like Rossi, his ultimate lap was also his most effective. The Spaniard was the final rider to go round in under 1:49.
Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi showed that Rizla Suzuki’s efforts to improve the GSV-R over the winter had been something of a success, both in the top six at a track that did not go well for the duo in 2008. They sandwiched satellite Yamaha rider Colin Edwards on the timesheet, while the top 10 also included fastest Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, Hayate Racing surprise Marco Melandri, 2007 podium finisher Toni Elías and Monster Tech3 Yamaha’s James Toseland.