Sepang MotoGP: Randy de Puniet fastest in stormy Sepang

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Factory Kawasaki rider Randy de Puniet has topped the timesheets at the end of the first day of practice for the Malaysian GP in Sepang, with world champion Casey Stoner a close second.

Frenchman de Puniet clocked a best time of 2.02.917 shortly before the last 10 minutes, which proved good enough for the overall best time on day one, despite a late charge from Aussie Stoner.

The session had started with the track still littered with large damp patches from heavy rain earlier, and only ten riders took to the track in the first ten minutes while the rest opted to wait for conditions to improve.

With the hot and humid conditions quickly drying the circuit, lap times began to fall, with Stoner needing just three laps to catapult himself to the top of the timesheets. Stoner didn’t even take to the track until 16 minutes had elapsed and on his third lap a 2.05.202 saw him jump ahead of compatriot Anthony West by 0.559s.

Spaniard Dani Pedrosa then took over at the top when he logged a 2.03.767 before Stoner responded with 16 minutes remaining. A 2.03.714 moved him just 0.053s ahead of the Repsol Honda rider.

Twelve minutes remained when de Puniet posted his best time that at that point moved him a massive 0.797s ahead of Stoner. Stoner, who was fastest this morning with a best time of 2.04.542, continually chipped away at de Puniet’s advantage and a lap of 2.03.245 got him to within 0.328s.

His next lap he slashed the gap to 0.280s and at the death the factory Ducati rider clocked a best of 2.02.928 to finish just 0.011s off de Puniet. French rider de Puniet, who will join the LCR Honda squad in 2008, might have extended his advantage but he ran off the track on his last flying lap on the entry to Turn 13.

Marco Melandri was third fastest with a best of 2.03.661 that was 0.744s off de Puniet, while Pedrosa eventually had to settle for fourth best. Kawasaki’s West was fifth fastest and the last rider to lap within a second of his team-mate, as Valentino Rossi had a tough start.

He was only 16th fastest this afternoon and a massive 2.5s off the pace as only British rider Chaz Davies, Shinya Nakano, Makoto Tamada and Kurtis Roberts were slower. Rossi had been seventh this morning on Sepang’s newly resurfaced track.

Japanese rider Nakano had a tough day too. He ended up only 18th fastest and crashed out twice, once this morning and again this afternoon at the end of the session. Nobuatsu Aoki, riding Suzuki’s prototype 2008 factory GSV-R, was 15th fastest overall, one place ahead of Rossi and just one place adrift of the Italian’s Fiat Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards.

Aoki posted a best of 2.05.234, which was 0.8s slower than fastest Suzuki rider Chris Vermeulen. The Aussie was eighth fastest overall with John Hopkins ninth.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt