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New Zealand To Be Added To MotoGP Calendar? is reporting that the Taupo Motorsports Park, which has just received a $2 million funding boost, is in negotiations with Dorna for a five year contract to host a MotoGP round. With the calendar already crowded, you have to wonder which of the GPs would disappear. The New Zealand Minister for Economic Development stated in the announcement that the facilities would be "as good as the best facilities in Australia", but it is unlikely that the Australian GP round at Phillip Island would disappear, as it is a firm favourite with the riders, always draws a good crowd, and produces great racing. With speculation rife that Shanghai is to be dropped from the calendar, especially after the announcement that Misano is to be added to the calendar for next year, the next candidate for replacement would be Qatar, as the attendance at Losail barely makes it out of triple figures.

New Zealand is an obvious choice for staging a MotoGP round, as the country has a long and vivid history in motorsports, and motorcycle racing. It is the birth place of that motorcycling genius John Britten, for a start, has produced a long list of racers in various classes, and is home to a large community of motorcycle enthusiasts and two- and four-wheeled motorsports fans. The Taupo track is to be extended to 3.5 km (just under 2 1/4 miles), which would make it one of the shortest tracks of the season, if it were to host a MotoGP round.

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Ellison To Be Replaced At Tech 3 Yamaha?

Dutch racing website is reporting that not James Ellison, but French 250cc rider Silvain Guintoli, rode James' Tech 3 Yamaha during the Mugello post-race testing session. Guintoli set a testing time of 1:52.1, faster than Ellison's 1:52.224 race lap. Speculation is rife that Guintoli will step in to replace the British rider, who has failed to live up to his pre-season form, or match team mate Carlos Checa's results. In James' favor is the fact that he is the only British rider in the championship, which could be important to the BBC, who broadcast MotoGP in the UK.

The news is also over on


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2006 Mugello Race - The Titans Meet in Tuscany

Motorcycle racing is a sport haunted by injustice. Chance lies waiting at every corner, turning a dream race into a nightmare, where engines can blow, tires can tear themselves apart, or an overcooked corner can end in the gravel traps. But sometimes, Fate takes a step aside, and races turn into a direct reflection of the real strengths in the paddock. That this should happen at Mugello seemed only fitting: great races belong at great racetracks.

That Mugello had the potential to turn into a great race was shown in the 250 race, where a group of 5 riders battled for the win almost to the wire, Jorge Lorenzo finally taking an epic win, and demonstrating his credentials for entry to the senior class next season. That the main title contenders were bent on making it a great race was a given. Two Ducatis, in their gorgeous anniversary livery, sat on the front row, driving an already excitable Italian crowd into absolute frenzy. Beside the Ducatis on the front row sat The Doctor Valentino Rossi, his chatter problems seemingly cured by the new chassis debuted at Le Mans. Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden sat in fourth, knowing that he had his work cut out to defend his lead in the championship, with Rossi's Italian compatriot Marco Melandri sitting directly behind Rossi in sixth.

At the sixth race of the year, with roughly one third of the season gone, and with three rounds coming up on three consecutive weekends 14 days from now, everyone knew we were getting into the guts of the title fight. A good result here was crucial, to take momentum into the grueling three-week stretch that is to come.

Hail To The Chief

As the lights went out, the pack leapt off the line, the crowd becoming ecstatic as the red, silver and green Ducati took the lead into the first corner, the yellow Camel Yamaha bearing #46 hot on its tail. The excitement was followed by a ripple of disappointment, as the Italian masses realised that it was the "wrong" Ducati in the lead, bearing Spaniard Sete Gibernau. But by the second corner, the disappointment made way for elation, as Valentino Rossi barged through to capture the lead. Meanwhile, the "right" Ducati, the Italian bike bearing an Italian rider, was languishing down in eighth place, Loris Capirossi having got off to a terrible start.

By contrast, Shinya Nakano had a fantastic start on the Kawasaki, sitting right in Gibernau's tailpipe in third, leading a charging Marco Melandri and another great starter Casey Stoner down the hill away from Poggio Secco. The question remained whether he could hang on to third spot, and cast off his image as a fast starter who fades as the race progresses. As the bikes crossed the line at the end of the first lap, Nakano's reputation seemed once again justified, having lost a spot to Melandri round the southern end of the track, and being outbraked at the end of the straight by the young Australian Stoner.

Behind Nakano, Nicky Hayden and team mate Dani Pedrosa were engaged in a fierce battle for sixth, a reflection of their battle for position within the Repsol Honda hierarchy. It would be several laps before this one was settled one way or another. Behind the HRC pair, and Loris Capirossi, Kenny Roberts Junior was showing that the new chassis that Team KR had provided for the Honda V5 engine was a major improvement over the previous version, holding down a promising ninth place. Fellow American John Hopkins followed, failing to capitalize on the great grid position he'd put his Rizla Suzuki in during qualifying. Another American with a new chassis was down in thirteenth, Colin Edwards having decided on using the new chassis Valentino Rossi was riding after a poor qualifying session on Saturday. On the grid, he seemed confident he'd found a good set up with the new frame, but any chance of proving his point was ruined, as he ran wide and into the gravel on lap 2, rejoining at the rear of the race. He was eventually to finish in 12th, after a strong ride making up for the ground he lost.

Back at the front of the race, Rossi's determination to pull out a win was showing. Proof that he was pushing as hard as possible came in the second lap, as he ran a little wide through the Palagio left-hander, kicking up dirt outside the kerbstones, and allowing Sete Gibernau to take back the lead. Rossi settled in behind Gibernau, to regain his composure and await his chance. Melandri was right on Rossi's tail, passing him briefly, before losing back out again. Completing the group was Casey Stoner, making a strong impression, and pushing Melandri hard.

Let Me Through, I'm The Doctor

By lap five, Rossi had retaken the lead, after swapping back and forth with Gibernau, and the front group had grown to six members, Pedrosa and Hayden joining the front runners, their personal feud not yet finally settled. The fight was fierce at the front, with no one expecting any quarter to be given. Melandri, in particular, was vehement in not taking prisoners, putting a series of extremely tough moves on almost everyone in the group. The battle for third was starting to take its toll on the group, allowing Rossi and Gibernau to slip away, picking up a narrow lead.

As the riders passed the stripe at the end of lap 8, Casey Stoner dealt decisively with Melandri, who'd been holding the following group up a fraction, pulling out of the Fortuna Honda rider's slipstream to dive into the San Donato right-hander in third. Stoner's determination was to prove his downfall, however. In his rush to make up the 1.2 seconds lost to Rossi and Gibernau, he opened the gas too early coming over the Poggio Secco rise, losing the rear spectacularly, the bike spinning end over end to its expensive demise. Stoner was lucky to get up and walk away, to pay a visit to the Clinica Mobile for treatment on an injured hand.

Settling Scores

By this time, the Kentucky Kid had settled the HRC rivalry in his favor, finally managing to make the pass he'd put on Pedrosa stick, and move on to dispatch Melandri back to fourth. Loris Capirossi had also joined the fray by now, making good on his poor start to join the front runners, moving past Melandri into fourth by lap 11. At the front, Sete Gibernau seemed to be rehearsing the move he would be making on the last lap, slipstreaming The Doctor out of the long Bucine left-hander and along the final straight, but he never seemed able to get past Rossi, the Yamaha's top speed, a weakness in previous seasons, no longer in doubt.

After sneaking past Nicky Hayden, Loris Capirossi was quick to close down the two leaders, taking a whopping 8/10ths off the gap on lap 13. Once he'd arrived, however, the leading six reassembled, with Rossi leading Gibernau, Capirossi, Hayden, Melandri and Pedrosa. Battle was once again joined, with tussles on almost every corner. Rossi, who had seemed superb, was showing the strain of keeping the chasing pack behind him, outbraking himself and running wide on lap 15, losing 4 places in the process, leaving Gibernau in the lead. The Spaniard's lap was to last for less than a lap, however, the crowd emitting a huge cheer as Loris Capirossi passed his team mate onto the starting straight.

This was the start of a remarkable slide for Gibernau, losing five places and over two and a half seconds in just two laps. Though he recovered his lap times, and was running as fast as the front group, he never managed to rejoin them, finally finishing a lonely fifth. The man he did manage to pass was Marco Melandri, whose effort to pass Nicky Hayden proved too much, leaving him running extremely wide, rejoining five seconds down on the leaders.

And Then There Were Three

With four riders left at the front, two of them Italians, the scene was set for a memorable finale. And the crowd were not to be disappointed. Capirossi led into the final laps, with Rossi pushing him every step of the way, and Nicky Hayden hot on their heels. Dani Pedrosa was losing contact, and moving out of contention for the podium. The top three were inseparable, Rossi and Hayden constantly probing for gaps to poke their bikes through to pass Capirossi for the lead, but Capirex and The Doctor kept slamming the door shut at every attempt. On the penultimate lap, Rossi finally managed to get past his fellow Italian, slipping inside at Materassi to take the lead. Coming back over start and finish, Capirossi pulled out of Rossi's slipstream to get his bike a tire's width ahead, but with a lap to go, this move wouldn't count.

But The Doctor had decided that he was going to win this one. His last lap was scorching, building a half-second cushion between himself and Capirossi, who was caught up keeping Hayden in third, to take a truly epic win. Capirossi kept second over the line, and a magnificent Hayden taking third. Pedrosa, who had faded a little over the last couple of laps, finished two seconds down in fourth, ahead of a strong Gibernau on the Ducati. A disappointed Melandri was sixth, the victim of his own eagerness.

Behind the front group, another great battle had played itself out over the course of race. Toni Elias, Kenny Roberts Jr, Makoto Tamada, John Hopkins and Shinya Nakano had been all over each other all race long. As they crossed the line, Melandri's Fortuna Honda team mate Elias came out on top, taking seventh ahead of an excellent performance by Kenny Roberts Jr on the new Team KR bike, Makoto Tamada in ninth, Suzuki's John Hopkins in tenth, and Shinya Nakano in eleventh. Colin Edwards followed a long way behind in 12th, a decent recovery after a bad mistake. Nakano's Kawasaki team mate Randy de Puniet ended 13th, followed by Australian Suzuki rider Chris Vermeulen on his first outing to Mugello, with Carlos Checa taking the final point for fifteenth. Ellison and the lapped Cardoso finished up the field, Cardoso's team mate Hoffman having pulled out of the race on lap 8.

Normal Service Has Been Resumed. Kind of.

After a run of freak failures and surprising results, Mugello turned out more or less as everyone would have expected at the start of the season. Valentino Rossi demonstrated why he is the world champion, taking a crucial win when he needed it. Loris Capirossi pushed his Ducati to the very limit to try and put an Italian rider on an Italian bike on the top step. And Nicky Hayden rode an impressive and calculating race, only gambling what he could afford to lose. But the result sheet belies what really happened: On any given lap, the race winner was almost impossible to predict, the title contenders pushing each other to the very limit, and sometimes beyond, to take the win at Mugello.

Rossi looked almost as relieved and emotional on the cool down lap as he did after winning on his first outing at Yamaha at Welkom in South Africa. This win meant more to him than even he realised, and it was exactly what he needed to get his title defense back on track. But he had to fight for it every inch of the way. Capirossi returned to blistering form, after a couple of poor outings, looking once again like a credible championship contender. Nicky Hayden put in another strong, sensible, champion's race, defending his lead without taking stupid risks. Back on the podium after missing out at Le Mans, he again looked slightly disappointed, the desire to win one getting stronger every race, and especially after races like Mugello, where he ran at the front and threatened all race long.

Even the class rookies behaved just as expected. Pedrosa ran hard and came close, but faded towards the end, seemingly justifying the predictions of his pre-season critics that he couldn't last a whole race. But he looked fresh and frustrated in the post-race interviews, and not like a man with nothing left. Fellow rookie Casey Stoner also stayed true to form, running very fast, riding very hard and looking like a real threat, before making a mistake and crashing out, something he has built up a reputation for in the lower classes. And Melandri stayed true to his fickle form, winning races one week while ending in the middle orders the next.

What Mugello does make clear is that with the arrival of the young guns, and the departure of the old guard, MotoGP has received a shot in the arm this season. With today's race at Mugello and the race at Istanbul, racing fans have been treated to two of the greatest MotoGP races for a very long time. The fans really have been the winner in 2006, and with Valentino Rossi back in the title race, and Capirossi and Hayden tied for points at the top of the table, things are just going to get better.

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2006 Mugello Round Qualifying - The Honorary Italian

It should come as no surprise that the Italians are highly motivated at Mugello this weekend. Valentino Rossi had already jumped up the qualifying rankings at Le Mans, after setting some very poor practice times in earlier races, and had dominated both Free Practice sessions on Friday. Not to be outdone, Ducati's Loris Capirossi had set the fastest time in Saturday morning's free practice session, slashing a second off Rossi's time. The only Italian missing from the party was Marco Melandri, who seemed to settle for running around 7th or 8th place.. So all eyes were on the Italians before qualifying, with much pressure on them to get a pole in front of their home crowd.

As qualifying opened, just about everyone took to the track to try and set a semi-respectable time, yesterday's semi-wet FP2 session still fresh in their memories. The weather seems destined to be a factor this season, and with this in mind, no one was taking any chances. It was clear that the Italian riders were serious right from the start, with Loris Capirossi setting the weekend's fastest time so far at 1:50.133 with over 53 minutes of the session left. Four minutes later, Capirossi broke into the 1:49s, setting a 1:49.819. Most riders having set a time they were comfortable with, the session quietened down, riders concentrating on finding tires and a bike setting to last the distance of tomorrow's race.

With 37 minutes to go, Valentino Rossi took over provisional pole from his compatriot, taking a tenth of a second off of Capirex' time, but Ducati were not content to let this stand. Some four minutes later, Sete Gibernau took 3/10ths off Rossi's time, getting within 2/10ths of Rossi's pole record from last year. With over half an hour left in the session, it was only a matter of time before that record would go, and by how much. It only took another 7 minutes before Loris Capirossi to answer that question, taking provisional pole back from team mate Gibernau with a new record 1:49.058. With over 25 minutes left in the session, it was obvious that this time had been set on race tires, and if this was possible on race tires, then the 1:49 barrier seemed sure to crumble.

As the session progressed, this time began to look more and more impressive. No one seemed capable of breaking it, even after the first sets of qualifiers started to appear with around 20 minutes to go. What was becoming clear was that Bridgestone had some great tires for the sweeping Mugello circuit, with both Hopkins and Nakano setting very impressive qualifying times, with Rossi, Hayden and Melandri the only Michelin riders capable of following.

With just two minutes to go, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived: a Ducati broke into the 1:48s at Mugello. To the slight disappointment of the crowd, it was not Loris Capirossi, but team mate Sete Gibernau who took the new pole record, with a 1:48.969. Although there was plenty of time left for others to try to improve on that time, no one was able to beat it. Despite several riders putting in fast times in the first part of the circuit, they couldn't maintain the momentum, coming up short in the fight for pole.

As the checkered flag fell for the end of the session, the two Ducatis stand at the head of the grid, to the delight of the Italian fans. Their delight is only slightly tempered by the man on pole being Sete Gibernau, but with Capirossi in 2nd, and Valentino Rossi in 3rd, they still have plenty to celebrate. Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden put in a fine display to take fourth on the grid, with Shinya Nakano once again demonstrating his excellent qualifying form in fifth. The third Italian on the grid is Marco Melandri on the Fortuna Honda in 6th, which will be a mild disappointment to him, though he has improved his position during each qualifying session.

Yet another Bridgestone-shod bike heads up the third row, John Hopkins putting in another solid performance to take seventh, with Dani Pedrosa, the man who took pole in the last two rounds, down in a disappointing 8th position, followed by fellow 250cc-graduate rookie Casey Stoner. Makoto Tamada holds onto his improved form to take 10th, with Kenny Roberts Junior showing similar steady progress in 11th. Rossi's team mate Colin Edwards is obviously still struggling, after having decided to stick with the old chassis for his Yamaha, finishing a disappointing 14th place, behind a fine showing by Carlos Checa, riding the Tech 3 Yamaha on the underperforming Dunlop tires, and ahead of Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, on his first visit to the Mugello track.

The big question of this afternoon's qualifying is whether Sete Gibernau's pole position marks a true return to form for the Spaniard, who has not had the blistering season he must surely have hoped for after moving to Ducati at the beginning of the year. Gibernau looked relieved and delighted at the post-practice press conference, describing taking pole as "a victory", and confirmation that he made the right decision to switch to Ducati and Bridgestone. With Sete being a rider whose performance is extremely dependent on his psychological state, taking pole here will be a big boost, and make him a force to be reckoned with. Unless of course something happens to deflate his confidence again, which would mean all bets are off again.

But anyone looking for a potential winner tomorrow need look no further than third spot on the grid. This is the first time so far this year that Rossi has started from the front row, and without the necessity of fighting his way past 10 riders before reaching the front, he can concentrate on getting away from the start and trying to take the lead. After being robbed of a good result two races in a row by mechanical problems, he will be desperate to replace the -43 on the tail of his bike with a smaller negative number. He needs a win to get his championship bid back on track, and to make his points deficit more manageable. The biggest threat to this plan is the man ahead of him on the grid. Capirossi will be dead set on taking a win this weekend. For an Italian rider, to win the Italian Grand Prix riding an Italian motorcycle is the highest achievement, besides taking the title. And with Ducati having launched their Desmosedici race replica road bike earlier this week, you can bet that Ducati will be doing everything they can to make this happen.

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Ducati Unveils Desmosedici RR Road Bike

Ducati has used their home GP to announce the Desmosedici RR, a roadgoing replica of their gorgeous Desmosedici racer. Specs are very impressive, with over 200 bhp claimed (with a 102 dB racing exhaust fitted) for the desmodromically operated 16 valve V4. No weight or price is given, but expect the former to be low, and the latter to be sky high. You'll also have to wait until July 2007 before you take delivery of your shiny new Duc. It will be exclusive, though, as only 400 are to be produced a year.

You can see a flashy version of the introduction over at the Ducati Website (click on the Desmosedici bar at the top of the page), or a more readable text-based version over at Mike Werner's blog.

One interesting question about this bike: The FIM rules for MotoGP state categorically that all bikes running must be prototypes:

Four stroke motorcycles participating in the Motogp class must be prototypes. Those that are not entered by a member of MSMA must be approved for participation by the Grand Prix Commission.

The question is whether the other MSMA manufacturers will refrain from submitting complaints about the racing Desmosedici if Ducati start winning a lot. So, if, for the sake of argument, Rossi went to Ducati in 2008, and won 8 Grand Prix, how would Honda, or Yamaha, react?


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New MotoGP Misano Round To Be Added To 2007 Calendar

Well, I touched upon this in my Mugello round preview, and I'm starting to think I might just be psychic. According, Dorna has announced that the San Marino Grand Prix will be run at Misano in 2007. It's not clear whether one of the existing GPs will be dropped, or whether the season will have 18 races, but my money is on either Shanghai or Qatar being dropped to make way for Misano.

The race is to be run on a "heavily modified" version of the track, in the reverse direction.

~~~ UPDATED ~~~

Since I posted this story, Dorna have announced the official calendar for next year. You can find it here.

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Valentino Rossi To Stay at Yamaha for 2007

After last week confirming that he would not move to Formula 1, Valentino Rossi has confirmed that he will be staying with Yamaha for 2007. This will be the first year of the new 800cc bikes, and Rossi is keen to stay with the team that has brought him so much success. You can find the official Yamaha Racing press release here.

Updated have an interesting quote from Rossi: 

"In the future I'm sure that I will do car racing, but maybe not Formula 1."
The other car which Rossi tested this winter was a works WRC Subaru. My money is on The Doctor going to WRC Rallying in 2009.


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2006 Le Mans Qualifying Practice - Return of the Young Challenger

The rain clouds which had caused problems during this morning's free practice session had disappeared by this afternoon, allowing the track to dry out and warm up a little. The strong winds, which had earlier blown a temporary commentary unit over, complete with worried journalists, remained, however. With everyone worried about the possibility of the rain returning later in the session, all 19 riders took off as soon as the green flag dropped, reasoning that a half-decent time might turn into a pole if the track got wet. After the first ten minutes, John Hopkins topped the timesheets with a respectable 1:36.22, with Sete Gibernau in second. The Yamahas and Kawasakis were prominent in the times, including Frenchman Randy de Puniet. De Puniet has plenty to live up to, having scored podiums at Le Mans for the last four races in a row, albeit in the 250 class. Aboard the Kawaski, in his first season of MotoGP, he faces a much tougher task this year.

But he wasn't showing much sign of that pressure, as he set the fastest time so far with 43 minutes of the session to go. His top time wasn't to last long, though, as most of the riders were out on the track, and putting in the next set of fast times. Valentino Rossi was the first rider to take de Puniet's lead from him, followed quickly by Loris Capirossi on the Ducati, whose time of 1:35.257 was getting closer to the times set during yesterday's free practice sessions. Capirossi's time also wasn't to last, though with first Colin Edwards, and then team mate Rossi, taking back fastest time for Yamaha. The Doctor's time was faster than Friday's free practice sessions, just a few hundredths over 1:35.

With 35 minutes to go, the session had gone quiet, most of the riders in the pits examining the setup to use for their fast laps later. Few riders were out improving their times, though first Gibernau and then Nakano moved up to fourth place. Most worrying for HRC was that neither Nicky Hayden, who is suffering with some kind of flu, nor Dani Pedrosa, had set a decent time, both riders a long way down on the time sheets. This was not a situation which could be allowed to stand. But it would take a while.

With 20 minutes left in the session, the pace started hotting up, and the grid was starting to look more and more interesting. Shinya Nakano was the first rider to break the 1:35 barrier, setting a 1:34.954, and the Bridgestone riders were looking more and more dominant. With 14 minutes to go, Capirossi jumped to second spot, and two minutes later, Hopkins took over first place with a 1:34.795. Nakano was not going to take this lying down, however, and retook first place within a couple of minutes. The prospect of an all Bridgestone front row, with no Hondas or Yamahas, seemed ever more likely.

The last ten minutes of qualifying practice turned intense, as they always are. Nakano's pole time, while constantly under threat, seemed safe for the moment. The Honda riders started to get into shape, with Marco Melandri moving into fifth with 8 minutes to go, only to have Dani Pedrosa shoot past him into third place a minute later, Hayden climbing to fourth another minute later. The Yamaha riders, who had been at the top of the timesheets for most of the session, were starting a downwards slide. With four minutes to go, Nakano proved that he, at least, was capable of improving his own pole time, taking nearly half a second off to 1:34.201.

With three minutes to go, everyone was out on the track. The electronic timesheet was flurry of blue, almost everyone on a personal fastest time, but no one could maintain the red numbers, indicating fastest overall. Capirossi tried, but stranded in 3rd, then Melandri tried, but only managed second. The one man constantly keeping red times after his name, was Dani Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda. After failing on his first attempt at taking pole, when he was baulked by Carlos Checa on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who was also on a fast lap, he wasn't to be thwarted next time around. With an astonishing 1:33.990, the tiny Spaniard took his second pole in succession, in only his first season in the premier division.

No one else could match either Pedrosa's fantastic time, or Nakano's similarly impressive performance. John Hopkins put in a final fast lap on his Suzuki to take the last spot on the front row, and Randy de Puniet delighted his home crowd by taking his Kawasaki to fourth. Marco Melandri will be next to de Puniet tomorrow, with Loris Capirossi being the first Ducati and last bike on the second row of the grid. Bridgestone certainly seem to have good tires for this track, one of the tracks they use for testing, as four of the top six riders are on Bridgestones. Valentino Rossi slips to seventh place on the M1 with the new chassis, team mate Colin Edwards on the old bike in 9th, and Sete Gibernau on the other Ducati sandwiched between them.

Although Nicky Hayden is only tenth on the grid, the Kentucky Kid surely won't be too disappointed, as the difference between fourth and tenth is less than 2/10ths of a second. Casey Stoner is likely to be disappointed with his eleventh place, after topping the timesheet this morning. Hopper's Suzuki team mate Chris Vermeulen earned a respectable 12th place on the grid, not bad considering this is his first race at Le Mans. Behind Vermeulen, Makoto Tamada must have expected to do better than 13th, after being much further forward yesterday. Carlos Checa put up a good fight on the disappointing Dunlops, finishing in 14th, with Kenny Roberts Junior a lot further down the timesheets than expected, in 15th place. Toni Elias is perhaps the biggest loser in qualifying, a lowly 16th well below what he is capable of. Ellison, Hofmann and Cardoso once again bring up the rear.

So, the results of yesterday's practice are turned upside down. Pedrosa put in a fantastic performance to take pole, where he was struggling yesterday, and the Yamahas, so dominant the day before, slipped some today. Bridgestone is really challenging Michelin's dominance at Le Mans, ironically a French track, despite the testing which former Dutch GP rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh has been doing on Rossi's Michelin-shod Yamaha at Mugello. With the weather uncertain for tomorrow, we are sure of a spectacle, come rain or shine.

Official results at


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2006 Le Mans Day 2 Free Practice Session 3

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.

Official results from


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