As expected, the last free practice session before this afternoon's official qualifying practice was dogged by rain and difficult conditions. With the rain expected to continue this afternoon, the result looks interesting. Accomplished rain riders had a mixed morning, some doing well, others doing surprisingly dismally. Kenny Roberts Junior, after starting the session slowly, shot to the top of the standings with 10 minutes to go, putting in a series of consistently fast laps, over a second ahead of the rest, only to have his time beaten by a great lap by Casey Stoner aboard the LCR Honda. In third place is Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano, another rider who was at the front for much of the session.
Where yesterday the Yamaha's dominated, today they were much less in evidence, Valentino Rossi only entering the top three with less than five minutes to go, finally pushed into fourth by Stoner's fast lap. And where yesterday the Fortuna Hondas were languishing in the lower ranks of the field, this morning they finished in fifth and sixth, Spaniard Toni Elias ahead of his team mate Marco Melandri. Behind them, Ducati's Loris Capirossi and Suzuki's John Hopkins sit within 5/100ths of each other, after both being nearer the top of the lap times earlier in the session. Cold-stricken Nicky Hayden on the Repsol Honda is in ninth spot, followed by an improving Chris Vermeulen on the other Suzuki. Hayden's team mate Dani Pedrosa, who won here last year in the 250 race, but doesn't like the rain, follows in 11th. Local boy Randy de Puniet, the man beaten by Pedrosa last year, has so far failed to take advantage of local knowledge, ending the session behind his former 250 rival. Spanish rider Carlos Checa, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, finished a commendable 13th, and looks like being the only Dunlop rider capable of challenging. A big surprise to see one of the best rain riders in the world, Ducati's Sete Gibernau, way down in 14th, followed by Makoto Tamada on the Konica Minolta Honda. We can only assume that Sete is keeping his powder dry for this afternoon. Behind Tamada is Texas Tornado Colin Edwards in 16th, a long way down from his first and second spots yesterday. Ellison, Hofmann and Cardoso complete the sheet, with Cardoso being over 11 seconds slower than Stoner.
All in all, a little of what we expected to see, with a few surprises thrown in just to keep things interesting. Qualifying this afternoon should be a fascinating spectacle.