The first day of practice at the Sachsenring brought the scenario that the fans of close racing feared most. Within 7 minutes of the first session of free practice starting, on his 4th lap out of the pits, Casey Stoner had already broken the race lap record. Then, in the afternoon, Stoner took all of 10 minutes and 6 laps to shatter Dani Pedrosa's pole record from 2006. Set on soft qualifying tires, which would only last a lap. Aboard a 990cc Honda RC212V.
Stoner has so far been devastatingly effective, running long sequences of 1'22 second laps in the morning, and 1'21s in the afternoon, generally running at least half to three quarters of a second faster than the rest of the field, and looking quite simply invincible. In this form, it's hard to imagine how the Australian might be stopped, and will be worrying the rest of the field. After all, there's still 8 races to go, and a very strong chance that Stoner could win every single one of them.
Behind Stoner, things are a good deal more interesting. Biggest surprise so far is Alex de Angelis, who set the 2nd fastest time, and was the only other man to break into the 1'21 bracket. De Angelis was fast in both sessions, and clearly demonstrated his potential, as he did at Mugello. If he can avoid flinging his Gresini Honda into the scenery, he may just get his first MotoGP podium.
Behind de Angelis, it's a mixed picture. Valentino Rossi struggled with setup in the afternoon, after being quick in the morning, while Dani Pedrosa had similar problems. Colin Edwards is quick on the Tech 3 Yamaha, setting the 3rd quickest time of the day, and consistently sitting near the top of the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo has also pleasantly surprised his fans, being much further forward than he has been on the first day at previous meetings, the Spaniard obviously regaining the confidence he lost in the big crashes that marred his early season.
More surprises came from Kawasaki's Ant West and Alice Ducati's Sylvain Guintoli. Both men featured regularly in the top 10, though Guintoli slipped down to 11th, and West down to 15th by the end of the session. West had injured his back in a crash during the morning session, and the pain made it difficult to get the bike to change direction at a few key points round the track. But the bike was definitely showing signs of improvement, and if treatment to West's back is successful, he could possibly put in a respectable finish.
West was just one of many people to crash. Dani Pedrosa, Colin Edwards, Andrea Dovizioso and even Casey Stoner all took tumbles with varying degrees of damage. Though nobody was particularly badly hurt, the machines of Pedrosa, Stoner, West and Dovizioso were all sufficiently damaged to leave them with just a single bike. The problem seems to be tires, with both Michelin and Bridgestone riders saying that the tires were wearing much faster than they did last year, and the tires they were expecting to work were not providing the grip they had hoped for. The bikes appear to have changed so significantly in the last 12 months that last year's tire data is not proving a useful enough guide to what to do now.
At the back of the field, James Toseland is still learning his way around a very technical track, but getting quicker in every session, as he should be. Ahead of Toseland, Marco Melandri continues to struggle around at the back, as rumors continue to grow that this is the Italian's penultimate race aboard the Ducati. Melandri also has his father present at the Sachsenring, which is a serious break with tradition. Ordinarily, Melandri likes to keep family and friends separate from racing, and never turns up at the track with any kind of entourage. Bringing his father along just seems to underline Melandri's need for support in the difficult situation he finds himself.
And as predicted, the Suzuki's are struggling in Germany. Loris Capirossi is obviously still in pain, and not really in any condition to be muscling a 230+ horsepower racing motorcycle around a track. But even the fit Chris Vermeulen is struggling, only managing the 14th fastest time. The Suzuki suffers particularly with edge grip, and the Sachsenring is all about edge grip.
The weather stayed warm for today's sessions, but worse weather could be on the way. The region around Chemnitz, the closest big city to the Sachsenring, is right on the edge of a weather front which is moving across Northern Europe. So far, the front has stayed to the North of the circuit, but there are no guarantees that it will stay this way. It could go either way, and so Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race could be an interesting prospect. We shall see.