US MotoGP: Stoner stays in charge at Laguna Seca

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Casey Stoner ended the first day of action at a sun-drenched Laguna Seca circuit with the fastest time in both free practice sessions.

The MotoGP world championship leader clocked a 1.22.997 lap this afternoon to top the timesheets in second free practice, just as he did in this morning’s opening session.

Once again, the Australian edged out Italian Gresini Honda rider Marco Melandri. Stoner’s best time was 0.187s clear of Melandri, with home favourite John Hopkins third fastest on the factory Suzuki GSV-R.

Stoner though was once again in control and once he jumped to the top of the timesheets with a 1.23.322 after just nine minutes, he was never toppled. That time put him a massive 0.924s clear of Melandri in the early stages though just two minutes later Melandri cut the gap to 0.535s when he posted a 1.23.857.

Thirteen minutes of the session remained when Stoner logged his best lap time which came after he’s run off track at the Corkscrew. His time was nearly 0.5s faster than he managed this morning, even though the Marlboro Ducati rider believes a new track surface has made the Laguna Seca circuit even bumpier than last year.
“The conditions feel a lot worse than they did last year. The surface is maybe a little better but the bumps are worse, the track is really bumpy now, “said Stoner.

Melandri knocked 0.4s off his best time this morning as he slowly edged closer to Stoner without ever finding a lap to oust the 21-year-old from top spot.
With just 17 minutes gone he clocked a 1.23.504, which got to within 0.182s of Stoner. He briefly slipped to third behind Hopkins when a 1.23.296 with 11 minutes remaining cut Stoner’s advantage back to 0.299s. Only four minutes remained when Melandri’s best of 1.23.177 got him to within 0.180s of Stoner’s GP7.

Melandri said: “"We've made a good start to the weekend, I'm happy. The bike is responding well and thanks to the new exhaust pipe the engine performance is much sweeter and I can ride it as I like around here. I'm also satisfied with the tyres. I'm feeling highly motivated for the challenge ahead and I'm determined to finish with a top result. I like this track - I was third here last year and after such a good ride in Germany I'm ready to fight for the podium again."

Hopkins was third as he finished just 0.083s clear of compatriot Colin Edwards on the the Fiat Yamaha.

Valentino Rossi posted the seventh best time but was 0.553s adrift of Stoner. Looking to make a dent in Rossi’s 32-point championship lead in Sunday’s 32-lap race, Rossi got as high as third when a 1.23.612 after 16 minutes saw him close to within 0.290s of Stoner. He eventually posted a best of 1.23.550, with double Laguna Seca winner two places further back in eighth.

The only rider not able to better his time from this morning was Canadian veteran Miguel DuHamel. He ended up 19th fastest with a 1.25.726 falling nearly 0.2s slower than he managed this morning in his role as substitute for injured Toni Elias.
Britain’s Chaz Davies was 20th quickest on his shock appearance for the D’Antin Ducati squad replacing injured German Alex Hofmann. He posted a 1.26.459 having never ridden a MotoGP bike before.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt