Valentino Rossi dazzles under Qatar floodlights

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Reigning MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi continued his phenomenal pre-season form in Qatar tonight.

The Italian ended the first night of the penultimate test under the Losail International Circuit floodlights with a best time of 1.55.402 to finish over 0.3s ahead of the field.

The Italian said: “I am so happy today because this isn’t one of our best tracks and to come here and be fastest shows what a great job Yamaha has done with this new M1.

“To start with the track was quite slippery but anyway we were still fast, and as the track started to improve I felt better and better.

“We are quite competitive and this gives me a good feeling, and I was happy to make this quick lap right at the end.

“We still have to decide the right tyre and the best setting for it, and we will keep working on the electronics but the most important thing is that we’re faster than last year!

“Tomorrow we will continue with our work and try to finalise everything before the race.”

Rossi has now been quickest in each of the five days of winter testing so far with Australian rival and Qatar specialist Casey Stoner having to settle for second again.

Stoner, who has won the previous three races in Qatar, clocked a best time of 1.55.717 but the 24-year-old was satisfied having logged his best time on old Bridgestone tyres.

Performance of the night though was easily registered by reigning World Superbike champion Ben Spies.

The 25-year-old topped the timesheets briefly in the six-hour session that ran from 6pm to midnight and eventually ended up third quickest.

Spies has previous experience of the Losail International Circuit but had never ridden under the spectacular floodlights before tonight.

A best time of 1.55.594 though saw the triple AMA Superbike champion finish just over 0.2s adrift of Stoner and a massive 0.6s clear of Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Colin Edwards.

It wasn’t an entirely trouble free night though for Spies who did have his first Yamaha YZR-M1 crash when he lost the front end at Turn Two with 50 minutes remaining.

Spies was testing a new hard compound Bridgestone front tyre he didn’t like, but had gone back out to check its performance with revised pressure.

But he escaped unhurt save for a small loss of his skin on his left forearm and he said: ““I know this track from last year but riding under the floodlights is definitely a bit different and nothing I’ve experienced before.

“The perception of speed is much faster with it being at night but I’m having a lot of fun.

“It’s really well lit up but there are a couple of darker spots on the track that you have to get used to but I’ve not done too bad in adjusting to the lights.

“I know the track but any track I go to on a MotoGP bike makes it definitely different because of the lines you take.

“Some of the lines I’d take on the superbike just don’t work but I felt like it was coming together good and following a couple of people it felt like I was doing more of the right things than I was in Malaysia.

“Obviously it is great for me to be high up the timesheets but I’m still taking baby steps to improve. The crash was nothing too serious. I was running the hard front and I wasn’t getting a good feeling from it.

“We changed the pressure to try and help for my second run but I just lost the front at the second corner. But to be third is fantastic.”

Edwards was fourth ahead of LCR Honda rider Randy de Puniet with the returning Jorge Lorenzo down in seventh place.

The Spaniard was back in action for the first time since he broke his right thumb in a training accident last month.

Lorenzo struggled in the hard braking zones and was riding with a specially modified Dainese glove on his way to posting a best time of 1.56.838.

The double 250GP world champion said: “It’s really good to be back on my bike and actually when I went out on track the first time today my hand felt better than I had expected.

“The pain has decreased a lot in the last few days and I’ve been doing a lot of physio to make sure I’m in the best possible shape for this test.

“I was able to do quite a lot of laps today and my time is not so bad in the end, it’s definitely interesting and important to be here and see our level after missing the last test.

“Dainese have made me a bigger glove and I have some protection on the hand; changing direction is okay, it’s just the hard braking areas where I have some problems. I need more practice but I think we have made a good start.”

Another big shock was the continuing dismal form of Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.

The Spaniard could only finish the previous test in Sepang in eighth place but suffered a torrid first night in the Middle East.

The triple world champion could only finish with a best time 1.57.047 that left him 10th and a massive 1.6s behind Rossi.

For long periods of the session, Pedrosa was down in 15th place as his struggle to adapt to Ohlins suspension continued.

Times

Valentino Rossi Yamaha YZR-M1           1.55.402
Casey Stoner Ducati GP10                        1.55.717
Ben Spies Yamaha YZR-M1                 1.55.954
Colin Edwards Yamaha YZR-M1             1.56.540
Randy de Puniet Honda RC212V            1.56.588
Andrea Dovizioso Honda RC212V           1.56.811
Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha YZR-M1             1.56.838
Nicky Hayden    Ducati GP10                     1.56.855
Mika Kallio Ducati GP10                 1.56.923
Dani Pedrosa    Honda RC212V            1.57.047
Loris Capirossi Suzuki GSV-R             1.57.099
Marco Melandri Honda RC212V             1.57.605
Hector Barbera Ducati GP10                       1.57.822
Hiroshi Aoyama Honda RC212V             1.57.888
Marco Simoncelli Honda RC212V           1.57.891
Aleix Espargaro Ducati GP10                     1.57.898
Alvaro Bautista Suzuki GSV-R            1.57.960

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt