Motegi MotoGP: Dani Pedrosa sets Motegi pace to mark new Honda deal

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Dani Pedrosa celebrated signing a new factory Honda contract today in the Twin Ring Motegi by clocking the fastest time at the end of the first day of free practice for the Japanese MotoGP.

Having posted the best time in this morning’s opening session with a best time of 1.48.249, the triple world champion was the only ride to break into the 1.47 bracket this afternoon to continue his promising start in Motegi.

A best lap of 1.47.865 comfortably beat MotoGP world championship leader Casey Stoner, shortly before a press conference was held to announce Dani Pedrosa signing an extension to his current factory Honda deal.

The Spaniard first moved to the top of the timesheets with just 12 minutes gone when he logged a 1.48.345 to move 0.072s clear of Marco Melandri.

Nobody would overhaul Dani Pedrosa in the remaining 48 minutes as he continued to hammer home his authority on a track so normally dominated by Japanese tyre factory Bridgestone.

He was one of only two Michelin riders though in the top ten, with Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden the next best. The American was down in ninth place though and 0.687s adrift.

Seven Bridgestone riders were in the top 10, with home favourite Makoto Tamada impressing with 10th on the Dunlop-shod Tech 3 Yamaha.

A further 17 minutes had elapsed when Dani Pedrosa stretched his advantage even further when a lap of 1.48.283 moved him 0.200s clear of American John Hopkins.

Thirteen minutes remained when a 1.48.062 lap edged his lead to 0.382s over Aussie Casey Stoner, and on his next lap he broke the 1.48 barrier with the 1.47.865 that ensured he topped the timesheets.

At that time with 11 minutes remaining he was a massive 0.579s clear of Casey Stoner, and the factory Ducati rider eventually slipped down to fifth place.

Factory Kawasaki rider Randy de Puniet got closest to Dani Pedrosa’s impressive pace when the Frenchman posted a 1.48.254 on his 21st lap. That was 0.389s slower than Pedrosa but an improvement for Randy de Puniet who had finished fourth this morning.

Third fastest was Melandri on the Gresini Honda. His best of 1.48.351 came in the final 90 seconds and his third matched his position from this morning.

John Hopkins was fourth on the Suzuki GSV-R with a best of 1.48.361. The Californian had briefly held top spot in the first 10 minutes.

Casey Stoner was fifth after he’d been just 0.242s slower than Dani Pedrosa this morning with a 1.48.491 giving him the second best time in the opening session.

It certainly wasn’t the opening Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi badly needed to lift his hopes of extending the world championship fight beyond this Sunday’s 24-lap race.

Trailing Casey Stoner by 76-points, he must beat the 21-year-old on Sunday or Stoner clinches his first world title.

The Italian was fifth quickest this morning but ended up way down the rankings in 14th with a best time of 1.48.782. That was marginally slower than his best from this morning as he was one of only four riders who failed to better their pace in the second session.

His spirits were hardly lifted with 22 minutes remaining when he suffered another spectacular engine blow-up on his factory Yamaha YZR-M1.

TV pictures captured Valentino Rossi cruising back to the pits with smoke billowing out the exhaust pipe in what was the second major engine failure with Yamaha’s new pneumatic valve motor in just over three weeks.

Rossi was forced to retire from the Misano MotoGP race earlier this month when the bottom end seized.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt