Assen MotoGP: Randy de Puniet shocks title contenders

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Randy de Puniet produced a big shock on the opening day of practice in Assen, the LCR Honda rider edging out MotoGP title contenders Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner to set the fastest time.

The French rider clocked a best time of 1.37.842 with just over a minute of the session remaining to deny Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi top spot by just 0.005s.

Chris Vermeulen, who eventually finished eighth quickest, played a big part in de Puniet’s best lap, the Aussie towing de Puniet’s Honda RC212V round the historic Assen track.

Rossi, who had gone to the top of the timesheets with just 12 minutes remaining with a best time of 1.37.847, was 0.030s quicker than third placed Aussie Casey Stoner.

Stoner left it late to clock his best time of 1.37.877 on his last lap to secure third ahead of Spaniard Lorenzo.

Lorenzo, narrowly beaten to victory by Rossi earlier this month in a classic Catalunya race, had to settle for fourth with a best time of 1.38.061 leaving him 0.216s off de Puniet’s pace.

Only six minutes remained when Italian Andrea Dovizioso was lying in third place on Honda’s factory RC212V. Fitted with a new chassis that he tested in Catalunya recently, Dovizioso slipped down to sixth, just ahead of double Assen podium finisher Colin Edwards.

Edwards too had run in the top three for large portions of the hour-long session, but the American’s best lap of 1.38.205 was only good enough for seventh, just 0.145s clear of Vermeulen on the factory Suzuki GSV-R, British rider James Toseland enjoyed a solid start to the seventh round of the 2009 series, the 28-year-old finishing in an encouraging ninth place.

The double World Superbike champion was running in the top three for the opening third of the session as he ran a heavily-modified Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine.

He was able to sit comfortably in the top six for most of the 60-minute session before slipping out of the top ten in a late flurry of activity.

But with just over 0.5s splitting the top ten in another closely contested session, Toseland clawed his way back into ninth spot with a best lap of 1.38.379. Japanese rookie Yuki Takahashi had another torrid session.

The Scot Honda rider crashed heavily shortly before the halfway stage and limped away with a right knee injury. He ended the session down in 17th position.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt