The second free practice session at Le Mans this afternoon was marked by changeable weather conditions, sunshine alternating with cloud, with a light drizzle finally putting paid to any further practice with some 10 minutes to go. But before rain put a damper on things, the session saw a resurgence of Honda, with Gresini's Marco Melandri topping the timesheets, ahead of Dani Pedrosa and Carlos Checa.
But Honda weren't having it all their own way. The early part of the session saw Carlos Checa head the lap charts on his LCR Honda for a long time, followed closely by Colin Edwards on the Fiat Yamaha and John Hopkins on the Rizla Suzuki. Casey Stoner was also close, keeping his Ducati within spitting distance of the front three.
But after the halfway mark, the Honda boys started to make their mark. Melandri eventually took the top spot, with a lap just a quarter of a second off the lap record currently held by Valentino Rossi. Dani Pedrosa took second, 15/100ths behind, the new exhaust his Repsol Honda sporting producing some improvement for the Spaniard, while the session's most impressive ride, Carlos Checa, set the 3rd fastest time.
The resurgence of the Hondas forced Colin Edwards down to 4th, ahead of John Hopkins, who again set the highest top speed, and Casey Stoner. Toni Elias took 7th, just inside half a second slower than his team mate, Melandri. Behind Elias, a brace of Ducatis followed, Alex Barros nearly 1/10th faster than Loris Capirossi, despite Barros being on the Pramac satellite bike. French Kawasaki rider Randy de Puniet rounded out the top 10, the first rider to be over a second slower than Melandri.
Further down the field were some very mixed performances. Neither Valentino Rossi in 11th or Nicky Hayden in 17th could improve on the times they set this morning, with both riders having run off the track due to the damp conditions. Hayden came off worse, suffering a relatively harmless get off with under 20 minutes left in the session.
Kenny Roberts Jr managed to improve his times significantly, 14th spot being much better than the lowly 18th he'd managed this morning. And Sylvain Guintoli put in a great display at his home track, setting the 13th fastest time on his Dunlop-shod Tech 3 Yamaha, 2 spots ahead of team mate Makoto Tamada.
All in all it was a difficult session, for while the track was mainly dry, the occasional showers and changing conditions made concentrating on finding a setup difficult. Pedrosa, Checa, Edwards and Hopkins seem to be in the best shape for the race, with Marco Melandri capable of fast laps, but not as consistent as the fast four. Stoner should also be able to stay in contention, based on the lap times he can run, with a host of riders running close behind. With a free practice session and qualifying to go, race pace looks like being around the low 1'35 mark. Anyone running that kind of time consistently will be in the frame for victory.