Day 2 of the Portuguese Grand Prix started with what the MotoGP 2006 season has come down to: Two men, Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi, going head to head. It was only a free practice session, though admittedly a very important one, preceding qualifying as it does, but tension is being raised to almost unbearable levels. At the end of the session, it was Nicky Hayden who came out on top, setting a scorching 1:36.846, with Valentino Rossi setting the 2nd fastest time with a 1:37.032. Hayden will have dealt a psychological blow to Rossi, being the first, and only, rider to break into the 1:36 bracket. But Rossi ran consistently faster when testing race tires, a fact which will worry Hayden. So, we will have to call the result of FP3 a draw, for the moment.
Behind the two title hopefuls, places 3 to 8 were pretty close, Loris Capirossi's 8th time less than half a second slower than Dani Pedrosa's 3rd. Worryingly for Hayden, Pedrosa was also very fast on race tires, running a long string of 1:38s and 1:37s. Kenny Roberts Jr came very close to taking Pedrosa's 3rd spot, finishing just 9/1000ths behind the diminutive Spaniard. Colin Edwards continued his strong showing with a 5th time, ahead of Sete Gibernau and Casey Stoner, Loris Capirossi taking 8th. John Hopkins and Shinya Nakano followed, in 9th and 10th respectively.
Marco Melandri, who injured his knee during FP2 yesterday afternoon, was out, but could only set the 12th fastest time. He is sure to be fit for the race, but not strong enough to challenge at the front. The Ilmor SRT X3's times were once again watched closely, Garry McCoy finally slipping into last place (surely much to the relief of Jose Luis Cardoso), 4.3 seconds behind Hayden's time. We await qualifying practice with even more eagerness than usual.