2006 Estoril Day 1 - FP 1 and FP2

Day 1 at Estoril brought a whole bunch of surprises, as you might expect from this topsy-turvy season. The morning started out almost as an echo of last season, with Valentino Rossi ensconced firmly atop the timesheets, although the times were remarkably slow, Rossi's fastest a 1:39.398, fully 2 seconds off Alex Barros' pole time from 2005. Behind Rossi was his friend and colleague Loris Capirossi, putting the big red Ducati into second spot. Capirossi was followed by John Hopkins, putting on a strong showing in the cool conditions, with the championship leader Nicky Hayden in 4th. Hayden headed up the class rookies Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, with the Yamahas of Colin Edwards and Carlos Checa doing surprisingly well to take 7th and 8th. Behind Checa, the Fortuna Hondas were having a harder morning of it, with Toni Elias leading team mate Marco Melandri, down in 10th.

If the morning session had been indifferent for the Fortuna Honda team, the afternoon was positively disastrous. Just a few minutes into the session, Marco Melandri ran wide into one of the left-handers, and dropped the bike heavily onto his left knee. He was immediately taken to the Clinica Mobile, and did not reappear for the remainder of the session. The team later announced that x-rays had shown that Melandri had not broken anything, but his knee was very badly bruised. He is a probable to race on Sunday, but having hurt his knee this badly, the slim shot he had at the title has now evaporated.

If Melandri's title hopes had been killed off, FP2 saw a revival in Nicky Hayden's fortune. The Kentucky Kid posted an excellent 2nd fastest time, at a track that has traditionally been pretty poor for him, behind an unleashed Casey Stoner. Stoner, as yet unconfirmed for 2007, said that he had taken some of the pressure of himself, and the more relaxed attitude to the race seems to have gained him some speed. Stoner's afternoon time was over a second faster than Rossi's morning time, at 1:38.218. Hayden was just 5/100ths behind Stoner, with a surprisingly strong Kenny Roberts Jr in 3rd spot. Behind Kenny Jr, Carlos Checa built on his fine outing in the morning session to take an excellent 4th spot, showing that the Dunlops are making steady progress towards becoming competitive. Both Dani Pedrosa and Colin Edwards moved up a place, with Sete Gibernau posting a respectable 7th. Gibernau later complained of some pain in the shoulder he injured at Catalunya, despite the two operations he had to fix the problem over the summer.

Valentino Rossi must have been a little worried after FP2, setting a time only 8th fastest of the session, over half a second slower than his rival Hayden. Rossi later put his time down to problems with his number 1 bike, causing him to lose time setting up his number 2 bike, and trouble finding the right tire. Although 8th is no disaster, he will need to be much further up the grid at the end of qualifying, if he is to stand a chance of holding off Hayden during the race. Behind Rossi, John Hopkins headed up Shinya Nakano to round out the top 10. Loris Capirossi, 2nd in the morning's session, had a very poor afternoon, failing to improve on the time he set in the morning, finishing a lowly 13th.

But all eyes were on Garry McCoy and the Ilmor SRT X3. Each lap time the Ilmor posted was subject to intense scrutiny and endless speculation. McCoy had been a little off the pace in the morning session, just over 4 seconds slower than Valentino Rossi. In the afternoon, McCoy had cut his lap time by over 1.3 seconds, and closed the gap to the leaders by just over 1/10th of a second. But the most important statistic was the fact that McCoy was not last in either session. James Ellison was slower during the morning session, and perpetual backmarker Jose Luis Cardoso was 2/10ths slower during the afternoon. The X3 was most obviously down on top speed, clocking a maximum of 304.7 at the end of the main straight, 20 km/h, or 12 mph slower than fastest man Casey Stoner. But the Ilmor ended the day within contention, a strong result for a motorcycle with 20% less capacity than the bikes it is racing against.

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