Valentino Rossi said he wasn’t surprised to see Casey Stoner dominating the opening day of practice for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island earlier today.
Fears the slow recovering right ankle injury he suffered in Indianapolis might seriously hinder the Aussie in his final appearance at Phillip Island vanished today as Stoner delivered a stunning performance in front of a huge home crowd.
He finished almost a second faster than the field in both practice sessions today with a best lap of 1.29.999 putting him 0.885s clear of Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa on the combined timesheets.
Rossi was over two seconds behind the 27-year-old, though he wasn’t too disheartened considering world championship leader Jorge Lorenzo couldn’t get within a second of Stoner.
The Italian finished eighth on the timesheets and he told MCN that it was no big surprise to see Stoner in such sparkling form at the Phillip Island track where he remains undefeated since 2007.
The nine-times world champion said: “I expect that Stoner is very fast here and he won the last five races and it looks that with the Honda he is also faster and the Honda now is very strong. It is clear that here Stoner makes the big difference.”
Rossi said he had no doubt that Stoner could make it six wins in a row at Phillip Island in Sunday’s 27-lap race, despite the injury that has left him with little strength and minimal mobility in his right ankle.
He added: “He has a good advantage and he can go fast with the soft or the hard tyre. It is strange to see this advantage because in the other tracks usually the top guys are closer and I think it is because the Honda is now very good in acceleration, especially where you need traction and have to put the horsepower down. But in this track when he walks he walks one metre from the ground. When you arrive in your home Grand Prix, sometimes the track gives to you the extra and already Stoner and Honda are fast everywhere, so here he has a huge advantage. He has two or three points where he makes a difference to the rest. Pedrosa is very fast and he is riding very well. I followed him and he is sliding a lot, but Stoner is much faster.”
Rossi said rear grip in the fast sections of the flowing Phillip Island track was crucial to his own hopes of launching a challenge to Honda pair Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl, who he finished just behind today.
Rossi, who will be back on a factory Yamaha YZR-M1 next month after quitting Ducati, said: “Today for me is not so bad because we improve from this morning and this afternoon I was quite fast, especially with the used tyre. I can keep a quite good lap time with a very old tyre and that’s good for the race pace. I try also the hard tyre that can be an option for Sunday and at the end I try also one soft rear but we modify the setting and it becomes too hard and I spin too much. If not I can also go 0.2s faster and stay in the 31s. We are in front of the other Ducatis and we are not so far from Bradl and Bautista on the Honda. In the fastest lap they are faster than us but in the rhythm we are very close and for us it is a good target if we are able to do the race together with them. But it is just Friday and tomorrow everybody will go faster and we have to do the same to make a good race. I think that here we need to find a good balance to ride the bike at the maximum in the long corners but at the same time the bigger issue is the traction on the left in acceleration from three or four corners. I have to find the right balance to ride fast without losing too much traction because you lose time. But also the tyre spins very much and the temperature increases a lot. When the temperature goes over the limit the tyre becomes very soft and very difficult to control. The main issue for Sunday will be to try and spin as little as possible to keep the tyre in the right range and to remain constant.”