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MotoGP Laguna Seca 2006 Race - Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot

Motorcycle racing, just in case you haven't noticed, is an outdoors sport. As such, it is ever at the mercy of the elements. And the 2006 MotoGP season has been dominated by the vagaries of the weather more than any other season in recent memory. Rain was the seemingly ever present companion to the series for the first few rounds, finally letting up when we reached Barcelona. But just as the riders had gotten used to not having to deal with the complexities which rain throws into the racing mix, Laguna Seca threw them a curve ball. It didn't rain in Monterey all weekend, it was hot. And not just a little hot, it was a pavement-scorching, rubber-melting, rider-wearing heat, with temperatures of over 100 F in the shade. In fact it was so hot that both American Superbike rider Ben Bostrom and Dani Pedrosa's mentor Alberto Puig had to be taken to the medical center to be treated for heat-related problems.

Even worse, the heat forced the track temperature up above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures not seen in a race since Malaysia in 2004. With the track at Laguna Seca surrounded by scrub, there is little vegetation or other shade to absorb the heat, so when it gets really hot, the heat is all reflected back to the crowd, the riders and the track. All this heat made finding tires and settings difficult during practice, with riders constantly struggling for grip, finding a tire which would work in the morning, when track temperatures were lower, but not in the blazing afternoon sun. And while the heat proved influential during practice, when race time came, it became the dominant factor, deciding not just the result of the race, but probably also the outcome of the 2006 MotoGP world championship title.

Deep Heat

As the riders lined up on the grid, the heat had already claimed one victim for the day: the FIM had postponed all of the AMA events, including rounds of the US Superbike series, until after the MotoGP bikes had finished, after parts of the track had started breaking up due to the heat. With the grid full of very nervous looking tire technicians and team mechanics, unsure of how the tires and bikes would last in the heat, the heat seemed sure to claim plenty more before the day was over. The morning's warm up session had already thrown up a number of surprises, with the front row men all well off the pace, the class rookies blisteringly fast, and Valentino Rossi, after struggling so badly in practice, finally in contention, with a strong 3rd fastest time. Though he would have to start from 10th position on the grid, everyone's minds were on what happened last week at the Sachsenring, where The Doctor went on to win the race after starting down in 11th, at a track reckoned to be difficult to pass at. With title rival Nicky Hayden starting from 6th, another epic battle looked in the offing.

Just Passing Through

The holeshot is important at Laguna Seca. The experts believe it's probably the hardest track to pass at that MotoGP visits all year, so getting off the line is vital. Colin Edwards knows this, and flew off the line into Turn 1, ahead of Kenny Roberts Jr and pole sitter Chris Vermeulen. But it was not the perfect start it seemed, as first Roberts then Vermeulen steamed past Edwards out of Turn 1 down towards Turn 2. Any aspirations Edwards may have had of winning were dealt a further blow as last year's winner Nicky Hayden passed him round the outside of Turn 2, with Casey Stoner slipping up the inside into Turn 3. Further down the field, Marco Melandri, who had started from 9th on the grid, moved past John Hopkins into 7th at Turn 5, having shot past Shinya Nakano shortly after the start. As the pack hounded down the Corkscrew, Vermeulen had closed to sit right on Roberts' tail. Three corners later, as they entered the final Turn 11, taking them back to cross the finish line at the end of the first lap, Vermeulen slipped up the inside of Kenny Jr to take the lead. For a track which is hard to pass at, the first lap was truly a festival of overtaking.

The most significant absentee at this passing bonanza was Valentino Rossi. Starting from 10th, by the end of lap 1, he was still where he started, down in 10th. There was still a long way left to race, but over the next few laps, it became clear that tire choice was going to be a factor for the race. Chris Vermeulen had opted to mount a medium rear, and immediately set a flurry of furiously fast laps, building a lead over the man behind him, Roberts Jr. Others, such as Yamaha men Rossi and Edwards, seemed to have opted for a harder option, which meant getting off to a slow start, in the hope of having something left at the end of the race.

Choices Choices

The first 9 laps seemed to favor the softer choice. Vermeulen was trying to disappear, gaining a 2 second advantage on Roberts by lap 9. Behind him, Kenny Jr was starting to hold up the field, with a charging Nicky Hayden close on his tail in 3rd, followed closely by the rookie pairing of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa was looking ever more like the main threat for the race, having shattered Colin Edwards' track record by nearly 6/10ths of a second on lap 6, after having finally disposed of Marco Melandri in a lap-long tussle. Edwards, on the other hand, continued his slow slide down the field, being passed first by Pedrosa, and then by Melandri.

Though Melandri had passed him, Edwards managed to cling on for a while, soon being joined by John Hopkins and Valentino Rossi. Rossi had managed to get past Shinya Nakano on lap 4, and by lap 9, his tires gamble was starting to look like it might pay off, as his lap times started to match the riders ahead. Though he'd left his catching up till later in the race, time seemed to be in his favor.

On lap 9, Nicky Hayden finally managed to get past Kenny Roberts into the Corkscrew, and was now able to concentrate on chasing leader Vermeulen down. For Roberts, this was the start of a slow slide down the standings for the man who had been so fast during practice, the first victim of the day's heat. By the next lap, Stoner and Pedrosa were with the American, and pushing him. Pedrosa, impatient as ever to join his team mate ahead, slid past Stoner into Turn 5, and was up inside Roberts Jr going into Turn 11. He paid dearly for this move though, the rear sliding viciously on the exit, losing the two places he'd just gained. But his deficit didn't last for long. After running a little wide exiting Turn 2, Roberts immediately found himself being sandwiched between Stoner on the outside and Pedrosa on the inside as they exited Turn 4 and headed down towards Turn 5. With Roberts relegated to 5th spot, the two rookies faced off once again for 3rd, a match-up which Stoner settled in his favor, after Pedrosa made a mistake going into the Corkscrew. Stoner's victory was short-lived, however. Pedrosa soon made good the time he'd lost, and as he closed to push Stoner for 3rd place, the young Australian made the kind of mistake seen from him too often, pushing a fraction too hard and losing the front into Turn 5, sliding off, and out of the race.

Taking Its Toll

By now, Hayden was starting to close down Vermeulen. Over the course of the next 5 laps, the Kentucky Kid narrowed Vermeulen's lead down from over 2 seconds to under a half, a repeat performance of last year looking increasingly likely. But to win, he had to get past. Getting past would not be easy, but by lap 17, the heat was starting to become a serious factor. It had already caused Shinya Nakano to retire with a dead engine, and was starting to show in the lap times, with softer tires starting to wear and harder tires starting to speed up. As Hayden sat on Vermeulen's tail, the young Suzuki rider made what seemed like an inexplicable mistake. Exiting Turn 3, Vermeulen sat up, letting Hayden power through up the inside. It later transpired that his bike was starting to cut out, particularly on corner entry, ruining Vermeulen's chance of a win, and even a podium. Vermeulen's lap times started to fluctuate, then dropped dramatically towards the end of the race.

With Nicky Hayden in the lead, and a clear track ahead of him, Valentino Rossi had his work cut out. He'd reduced his points deficit from 46 down to 26 in two races, and did not want to see all that hard work go to waste. Fortunately for Rossi, his tire gamble was starting to pay off. Lapping as fast as the Kentucky Kid, he wouldn't be able to catch Hayden, being 8 seconds down with 12 laps to go, but he was running faster than most of the riders ahead of him, so could limit his losses in the standings. On lap 19, Rossi was past Kenny Roberts Jr, and into 5th. On the next lap, he was past Melandri, and into 4th. From lap to lap, The Doctor closed on 3rd place man Pedrosa, as Pedrosa closed on Vermeulen. A podium looked possible, though 2nd spot would be a tough nut to crack.

Fate Strikes Again

But the heat was not yet done meddling with the outcome of the race. First, Vermeulen's bike suffered another glitch, allowing Pedrosa to power past into 2nd, and then, Rossi's tires started to go off. The Doctor's lap times dropped a little at first, losing just under a second a lap, but then, they collapsed entirely. On lap 24, Rossi had put in a 1:24.4. By lap 28, he was 4 seconds a lap slower. But just as Rossi struggled to salvage what he could, things went from bad to worse: forced to slow by his tires, the cooling system could no longer handle the oppressive heat. The engine started smoking, and though Valentino tried to nurse the bike home for two laps, the engine finally failed, but not before Rossi was shown the black flag for continuing to ride while possibly spewing fluids over the track. His title chances, like his Yamaha M1, were blown, as fate once again dealt him a cruel blow, one too many over this harshest of seasons for the 5 time champion.

Summer Repeat

Nicky Hayden, however, seems to have inherited Rossi's luck, and with it, quite probably the Italian's title. The young American once again rode home a brilliant home win at Laguna Seca, a much tougher victory than 2005, but no less deserved. He'd paced his race perfectly, his tires starting to fade on the last few laps of the race, chunking badly, but lasting long enough to take the top spot on the podium. Hayden's 2nd win of the season leaves him standing well clear at the head of the points table, 34 points ahead of his closest challenger, team mate Dani Pedrosa, and a massive 51 points ahead of current champion Valentino Rossi. Though you can never count Rossi out, The Doctor needs to win all 6 remaining races, and Hayden finish no better than 3rd, to still win the title. But realistically, Rossi needs at least one Hayden retirement to put him back into contention. The record so far this season shows how unlikely that is: Nicky Hayden has been Mr Consistency, being on or close to the podium nearly every race this season, while it's Rossi with three DNFs by his name.

Behind Hayden, Repsol Honda team mate Dani Pedrosa rode in a comfortable second, demonstrating that not just Hayden, but HRC had got it right at Laguna. 5 seconds behind Pedrosa, Melandri rode to another podium, keeping touch with Pedrosa in the championship race, but, at 44 points down from title leader Hayden, out of the running for the #1 plate. Kenny Roberts Jr's tire gamble also paid off, keeping consistent enough to regain most of the places lost to other riders earlier, finishing 4th in his home Grand Prix. The unlucky Chris Vermeulen finished better than could be hoped with his rough running Suzuki, holding on to 5th position ahead of team mate John Hopkins. Both riders were disappointed, but especially Vermeulen, robbed of a definite podium by the difficult conditions.

Another tire gamble that paid off was Carlos Checa's Dunlops. The Spanish veteran rode consistent lap times to finish 7th, and best Yamaha. Loris Capirossi was the first Ducati rider home in 8th, after the red bikes had struggled all weekend. Colin Edwards nursed his shot tire home to 9th, ahead of the other Ducati of Sete Gibernau. Gibernau was lucky that Alex Hofmann crashed on the last lap, as the Dunlop-shod Pramac d'Antin Ducati rider was ahead of him until that point. Makoto Tamada's revival at the Sachsenring proved to be a brief one, finishing anonymously again down in 11th, ahead of Kawasaki's sole finisher Randy de Puniet and Tech 3 Yamaha's James Ellison. Hofmann was game enough to remount and finish 14th, ahead of Melandri's Fortuna Honda team mate Toni Elias, who had run into the gravel early in the race and never really recovered. Jose Luis Cardoso completed the list of finishers with a 16th place.

The World Turned Upside Down, Again

Laguna Seca turned out to be yet another topsy turvy chapter in a topsy turvy season. The heat played havoc with the bikes, the riders, and the title race. And motorcycle racing's Mr Lucky, Valentino Rossi, suffered yet another humiliation at the hands of fate. After this emphatic home victory, Nicky Hayden now has the championship firmly in his grasp: the title is his to lose. But even if he does take the title, there will always be question marks surrounding it. Hayden is currently 51 points ahead, but Rossi's DNFs in China, France and the US robbed him of 49 points, if he had finished in the position he was in before dropping out. The old racing cliché says that to finish first, first you have to finish, but that won't silence the critics, rightly or wrongly.

Of course, all this speculation about Hayden having the title in his pocket assumes that the season will proceed without any surprises, and you'd have thought we would know better by now. Rossi has already conceded that the title is beyond his reach, but ominously for the rest of the field, has announced that his plan is now to "have a lot of fun over the remaining races and try to win as many as possible". If what we've seen so far this season has been Rossi riding conservatively, with one eye on the title, then I hesitate to think what kind of fireworks we yet have to come. Even if the title race is nominally over, there's plenty of racing left to come. And with four weeks to recover, the MotoGP field should be raring to go in Brno.

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2006 MotoGP Laguna Seca Warmup

Sunday morning's warmup threw up a few surprises at Laguna Seca. Firstly, prior to the warmup, the FIM ordered the AMA classes, which run at Laguna Seca at the same time, not to run until after the MotoGP event had finished. The next surprise was the names running at the front. After a previously dire qualifying session, Valentino Rossi lead the timesheets for a good deal of the session, with a very fast 1:23.494, nearly half a second quicker than the race record set last year. He was pipped shortly before the end of the session by Dani Pedrosa, who ran a 1:23.409, before fellow rookie Casey Stoner shattered the times in the dying seconds with an astonishing 1:23.029. If that was set on race tires, it's a staggering time.

The other surprise was the poor showing by front row man Kenny Roberts Jr, who languished in 18th spot for a long time, before finally climbing to 9th. The top ten at the end of the session was Stoner, Pedrosa, Rossi, Vermeulen, Hayden, Melandri, Hopkins, Edwards, Roberts Jr, and Capirossi. The first 7 are within a second, but over 3/10ths of that is Stoner's lead over the 2nd placed Pedrosa. Starting from Pedrosa, less than a second covers 2nd place down to 12th.

Things are likely to change during the race, as, although the air temperature climbed rapidly during the session, the track temperature stayed fairly steady at around 40 C, or 104 F. This afternoon, though, track temperatures are expected to rise to around the 60 C or 140 F mark, which is a whole different ball game as far as tires are concerned. It's likely to end up as a war of attrition, with the winner the rider who makes the best tire choice. It's going to be good ...

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2006 MotoGP Laguna Seca 2006 Qualifying

Laguna Seca has thrown up a host of surprises during Saturday's Qualifiying Practice session. Many observers were expecting to see Nicky Hayden attempt to repeat last year's performance, taking pole position in an attempt to lead the race from the off, but that plan fell through. Early in qualifying, it was Casey Stoner who topped the timesheets, setting the fastest time 10 minutes into the session, then improving on the time 8 minutes later, cracking the 1:23 barrier and setting a time that was to stand for nearly two thirds of the session. Behind Stoner, Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was quick, constantly threatening to take provisional pole from Stoner. With 24 minutes to go, Stoner lead Vermeulen, ahead of Vermeulen's team mate John Hopkins, Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden and Kenny Roberts Jr.

With 21 minutes to go, Chris Vermeulen finally made good on his threats, taking pole from Stoner with a time 3/10ths quicker, at 1:23.650. Stoner immediately tried to counter, but came up just 1/1000th short, running a 1:23.651. It was obvious that the qualifiers had come out, and times were now being set in anger, as a bunch of riders started setting 1:23s, Nakano moving to 3rd place, before being bumped by last year's pole sitter and winner Nicky Hayden. Then, with 16 minutes left in the session, Vermeulen consolidated his grip on pole position, setting a lap of 1:23.168. A couple of minutes later, Stoner moved back into 2nd, only to be bumped from that spot by Nicky Hayden shortly afterwards.

The last 10 minutes saw a flurry of fast laps. With 6 minutes left, Carlos Checa performed the remarkable feat of being fastest Yamaha, moving into 6th place, ahead of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. Edwards had been doing well in the session, but Rossi was struggling, being very fast round the first two sections, but losing a lot of time down the Corkscrew, fighting against the incredibly bumpy nature of the track down that section. With less than 6 minutes to go, Rossi was down in 13th, and sliding down the grid as riders set faster times. He finally moved out of the tail of the field with 1 minute to go, setting a 6th time, but he was not to hold on to that for long. Hopkins, Edwards, Roberts and Pedrosa were just some of the riders to put in a final fast lap before the session was finalized. Though all were fast, none could improve on Vermeulen's time, leaving the young Australian on his second pole of the season, after taking pole during the downpour at Istanbul.

So, Chris Vermeulen heads up the first row on the Rizla Suzuki, contrary to all the expectations of an American rider taking pole at a track which favors home riders. But Vermeulen has plenty of experience here, taking a double win at the World Superbike round here 2 years ago. Behind Vermeulen sits Colin Edwards, with Kenny Roberts Jr in 3rd, taking the final spot on the front row. Dani Pedrosa starts the 2nd row, with beside him Vermeulen's team mate John Hopkins, and Nicky Hayden a disappointing 6th. Casey Stoner is first on the 3rd row, followed by Shinya Nakano and Marco Melandri. Valentino Rossi is down in 10th, and will be worried to be starting from the 4th row at a track which is notoriously difficult to pass at. Besides Rossi sits Carlos Checa, with Toni Elias finishing up the 4th row. Loris Capirossi is the first Ducati rider in 13th, with Makoto Tamada and Randy de Puniet beside him. Sete Gibernau sits behind his Ducati team mate down in 16th, followed by Hofmann, Ellison and Cardoso.

So, qualifying threw up a whole mess of surprises. No one would have guessed that an Australian would take pole, and Hayden's 6th spot must be a worry for the man who seemed so close to the title just a couple of weeks ago. Valentino Rossi will be disappointed, but not all that surprised to be down the grid, but so far this year he has always managed to run better in the race than during qualifying. What is perhaps even more surprising are the slow times: Vermeulen's pole is half a second down on Hayden's time last year, and slower than this morning's free practice session. Most of that is to do with the temperature, with track temperatures over 135 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon. But the bumpiness of the track has to take some of the blame: it was obvious that a lot of riders were having real problems down the Corkscrew, Rossi being thrown almost out of the saddle at one point. It's going to make for an interesting race.

Timesheet at the official MotoGP website


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2006 Laguna Seca Free Practice Day 1

Kenny Roberts Jr leads the timesheets at the end of the first day of practice at the US GP at Laguna Seca. The rider who did so poorly at last year's grand prix is really making an impression at his home GP this year. Behind him, last year's winner Nicky Hayden had a good run in the second session, after a disappointing display in the morning session. Hayden's team mate Dani Pedrosa is the big surprise of the day, taking third spot on his first visit to the track, an extraordinary achievement at a track which is difficult to learn, thanks to so many blind turns. Marco Melandri is fourth, followed by double Superbike winner at Laguna Seca Chris Vermeulen. Colin Edwards heads up the Yamaha challenge in 6th place.

Other standings of note: Makoto Tamada put in a good result to take 7th spot, John Hopkins will be very frustrated to be in 10th at is home GP, and Valentino Rossi is a struggling with Laguna Seca's bumps down in 11th. Carlos Checa is showing continual improvement in 12th, but both the Ducatis and the Kawasakis are a long way down the grid. Alex Hoffman is the only exception for the Ducatis, his 15th time a good deal better than his usual standing.

The top 11 are covered by less than a second, but with Laguna Seca being a short track, and the fastest lap a 1:23.859, this is less significant than at other, longer tracks.

1 10 K.ROBERTS USA Team Roberts 1'23.951 1'23.859  
2 69 N.HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team 1'24.943 1'24.125 0.266 0.266
3 26 D.PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team 1'25.311 1'24.194 0.335 0.069
4 33 M.MELANDRI ITA Fortuna Honda 1'24.698 1'24.223 0.364 0.029
5 71 C.VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'24.739 1'24.253 0.394 0.030
6 5 C.EDWARDS USA Camel Yamaha Team 1'24.310 1'24.320 0.451 0.057
7 6 M.TAMADA JPN Konica Minolta Honda 1'26.658 1'24.339 0.480 0.029
8 27 C.STONER AUS Honda LCR 1'24.360 1'24.523 0.501 0.021
9 24 T.ELIAS SPA Fortuna Honda 1'26.599 1'24.494 0.635 0.134
10 21 J.HOPKINS USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1'24.608 1'24.663 0.749 0.114
11 46 V.ROSSI ITA Camel Yamaha Team 1'24.674 1'24.822 0.815 0.066
12 7 C.CHECA SPA Tech 3 Yamaha 1'25.100 1'24.883 1.024 0.209
13 65 L.CAPIROSSI ITA Ducati Marlboro Team 1'25.614 1'25.094 1.235 0.211
14 15 S.GIBERNAU SPA Ducati Marlboro Team 1'25.150 1'25.252 1.291 0.056
15 66 A.HOFMANN GER Pramac d'Antín MotoGP 1'25.977 1'25.294 1.435 0.144
16 56 S.NAKANO JPN Kawasaki Racing Team 1'25.659 1'25.598 1.739 0.304
17 17 R.DE PUNIET FRA Kawasaki Racing Team 1'26.913 1'25.651 1.792 0.053
18 77 J.ELLISON GBR Tech 3 Yamaha 1'26.984 1'25.768 1.909 0.117
19 30 J.CARDOSO SPA Pramac d'Antín MotoGP 1'27.531 1'27.020 3.161 1.252


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2006 Donington MotoGP Round - Qualifying Practice

Dani Pedrosa confirmed his dominance at Donington after qualifying on pole for Sunday's race. Pedrosa's name was near the top of the standings for over half of the qualifying session, first behind fellow 250 rookie Casey Stoner, before taking over the lead with 15 minutes to go. With just over a minute to go of qualifying, the diminutive Spaniard then smashed Valentino Rossi's lap record by over 2/10ths of a second.

The session initially looked like being dominated by Casey Stoner, the young Australian putting in a string of fast laps in the first half of the session, with Kenny Roberts Jr being the rider closest to Stoner's times. The timesheets stayed relatively unchanged for a long time, before the first run of faster times with 30 minutes to go. Pedrosa was the only rider to get close, with John Hopkins and Randy de Puniet also putting in fast times.

With 20 minutes of the session to go, the qualifiers started coming out. Chris Vermeulen, Colin Edwards and Randy de Puniet all put in fast times, but none of them could beat Stoner's 1:28.447. This is all the more remarkable as Stoner's fast time was set with race tires, yet the riders with qualifiers couldn't seem to match him. Not until Dani Pedrosa put in a 1:28.152, that is, taking pole from Stoner.

With 10 minutes left in the session, the scramble for a fast lap began in deadly earnest. The psychological warfare between Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, who was still smarting from last Saturday's loss at Assen to his fellow American, was on full display, the Yamaha rider following Hayden around the track, and pointedly pulling across in front of him in the pits at one point. Not that it did either of the protagonists any good, both the Yamaha rider and the Honda rider finishing way down in the standings, to start from the fourth row of the grid.

John Hopkins put in a quick time to move up to 4th, but a couple of minutes later, Nicky Hayden raced past to push him down a place. With 5 minutes to go, while Rossi seemed incapable of putting together a really fast lap, with only a 12th time, the other two hospital cases flashed through to put in some top times, Marco Melandri putting in a 2nd fastest time, Loris Capirossi's time taking him to 3rd. But there was still plenty more to come. A minute later, Hopkins flew past to take 3rd again, Shinya Nakano putting in a 5th place time just a minute later. Hopkins' Suzuki team mate Chris Vermeulen outshone the other two Bridgestone riders with a lap of 1:28.158, good enough for second, the spot he will line up at for the race tomorrow. Finally, with just over a minute to go, Dani Pedrosa reaffirmed his right to pole position, smashing the lap record with a time of 1:27.676, an astonishingly fast lap on the Repsol Honda.

So tomorrow, Pedrosa will get to start from pole position for the third time this year. Beside him sits Chris Vermeulen, on the front row of the grid for the 2nd time this year, after his pole in Turkey. Completing the front row is wonder boy Marco Melandri, surprisingly fast for a man who was so badly hurt just two weeks ago. The second row of the grid is headed up by Vermeulen's Suzuki team mate John Hopkins, with another courageous crash victim Loris Capirossi on the Ducati in 5th, and the Kawasaki of Randy de Puniet in 6th. Heading the third row is fellow Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano, reinforcing the strength of the Bridgestone showing here at Donington: 5 of the top 7 riders are on Bridgestones, the only Bridgestone rider missing from the front being Alex Hofmann, who is substituting for Sete Gibernau. Casey Stoner, the rider who led the session on his LCR Honda for so long, drops to a rather disappointing 8th, with Kenny Roberts Jr also likely to be disappointed to only be down in ninth.

The fourth row of the grid sees last week's two protagonists way down the starting order. Colin Edwards won the war of nerves from Nicky Hayden, in what is surely a pyrrhic victory. If Colin wants to get the win he denied himself last week in Holland, 10th spot is not a good place to start from. Valentino Rossi, the man who has won 5 of the last 6 races here, will not be happy in 12th position, but will at least be comforted that the man he has to beat for the title is on the same row of the grid. Rossi is the first rider to be outside of a second of Pedrosa's pole time.

Carlos Checa heads up the fifth row, with a strong 13th place for the Dunlop-shod Yamaha man. Only 1.6 seconds behind the pole sitter, the Dunlops are getting more competitive at every outing. Besides Checa sits Makoto Tamada, in yet another poor showing, the end of his ride on the Konica Minolta rapidly approaching. And Alex Hofmann will have to ride the tires off his temporary Marlboro Ducati from 15th place, if he is to keep the bike for his home Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time. British rider James Ellison will not be happy with his 16th place, though he continues to improve, while Hofmann's substitute Ivan Silva heads up the Pramac d'Antin Ducati tail enders, ahead of team mate Jose Luis Cardoso.

The qualifying session threw up a surprise line up at the front of the grid. Dani Pedrosa definitely deserves his fantastic pole, and has been consistently fast during qualifying, stringing together long runs of fast laps. The only question mark is whether he can cope with 30 long laps of manhandling the bike down through Craner. Both Pedrosa and Stoner, the two lightest riders on the grid, have been fastest through the rear three sections of the track all weekend, but they are both slow through the first part, which needs physical strength to flick the bike from side to side. If Pedrosa can get a good start, he must be capable of getting away and running ahead of the pack. The only rider with the consistently fast lap times to match Pedrosa is Casey Stoner. Stoner will find it harder to fight his way to the front from 8th.

The riders with momentum from Assen, Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards, seem to have spent it all in badmouthing each other in the press this week. They will have a tough fight to get to the front to be able to mix it for the win, and are likely to be trying to get in each other's way. This will be very much to the advantage of Valentino Rossi. 12th is a long way down the grid, but at least now, all he has to do is concentrate on staying ahead of Nicky. That's going to be tough, for the last section of track, through the Esses, up the Melbourne Loop and back down round Goddards, is all hard braking, which is tough on a broken wrist. This is going to be equally hard on Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri. Melandri has the advantage of starting from the front row, but is worried about his collarbone and hand holding up over the full length of the race.

With all those Bridgestone riders out front, it could be another surprising podium. Hopkins knows and loves this track, living just a few minutes away from it, and is desperate to get on the box. Vermeulen put in an outstanding lap at the track he last rode at in 2001, on a 600 Supersport, which must feel like a sensible commuter compared to the fire-breathing MotoGP bikes. And the Kawasakis look good, despite the last part of the circuit suiting the bike less well. It's going to be a great race.


1 26 Dani PEDROSA SPA HONDA 1'27.676     279
2 71 Chris VERMEULEN AUS SUZUKI 1'28.158 0.482 0.482 277.5
3 33 Marco MELANDRI ITA HONDA 1'28.205 0.529 0.047 277.4
4 21 John HOPKINS USA SUZUKI 1'28.252 0.576 0.047 276.7
5 65 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA DUCATI 1'28.394 0.718 0.142 275.1
6 17 Randy DE PUNIET FRA KAWASAKI 1'28.428 0.752 0.034 274.1
7 56 Shinya NAKANO JPN KAWASAKI 1'28.431 0.755 0.003 275.9
8 27 Casey STONER AUS HONDA 1'28.447 0.771 0.016 278.7
9 10 Kenny ROBERTS JR KR211V 1'28.473 0.797 0.026 277.7
10 5 Colin EDWARDS USA YAMAHA 1'28.481 0.805 0.008 278.9
11 69 Nicky HAYDEN USA HONDA 1'28.509 0.833 0.028 277.1
12 46 Valentino ROSSI ITA YAMAHA 1'28.808 1.132 0.299 277.9
13 7 Carlos CHECA SPA YAMAHA 1'29.294 1.618 0.486 270.7
14 6 Makoto TAMADA JPN HONDA 1'29.362 1.686 0.068 275.8
15 66 Alex HOFMANN GER DUCATI 1'29.479 1.803 0.117 272.9
16 77 James ELLISON GBR YAMAHA 1'30.382 2.706 0.903 270.8
17 22 Ivan SILVA SPA DUCATI 1'31.838 4.162 1.456 270
18 30 Jose Luis CARDOSO SPA DUCATI 1'32.252 4.576 0.414 268.1


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Michel Fabrizio Breaks Collarbone at Donington

Michel Fabrizio, replacement rider for Toni Elias at Fortuna Honda, has broken his collarbone during the third Free Practice session at Donington, meaning he won't be able to take place in the race. Fabrizio was to partner the already injury-plagued Marco Melandri. The team may need another replacement rider for the German GP at the Sachsenring in 2 weeks time.

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2006 FP1 and FP2 Donington Round

Dani Pedrosa dominated both of Friday's free practice sessions at Donington. His last run during FP2 was particulary impressive, going out for ten laps and setting consistent low 1:29s. The only person to be able to match that kind of consistency was his former 250 rival Casey Stoner.
In injury news, Marco Melandri seems to have staged a near full recovery, as his times were also consistently fast, while Valentino Rossi is obviously a lot more comfortable than last week, but is still suffering a little, and may find it hard to ride a full race. Loris Capirossi went out during the morning session, but did not appear during the afternoon's session, as he was experiencing too much pain from the internal injuries sustained at Catalunya.
As for times, Pedrosa dominated, John Hopkins put in a couple of good laps to come second, with Stoner third. Checa put in a surprising display, setting the 11th time on the Dunlops which have been so poor so far this season. The times are also pretty close, as the top 12 are covered by less than a second.

1. Dani Pedrosa SPA Repsol Honda Team 1min 28.970 secs
2. John Hopkins USA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1min 29.025 secs
3. Casey Stoner AUS Honda LCR 1min 29.064 secs
4. Marco Melandri ITA Fortuna Honda 1min 29.196 secs
5. Shinya Nakano JPN Kawasaki Racing Team 1min 29.275 secs
6. Colin Edwards USA Camel Yamaha Team 1min 29.379 secs
7. Valentino Rossi ITA Camel Yamaha Team 1min 29.416 secs
8. Kenny Roberts Jr USA Team Roberts 1min 29.544 secs
9. Nicky Hayden USA Repsol Honda Team 1min 29.557 secs
10. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro Team 1min 29.798 secs*
11. Makoto Tamada JPN Konica Minolta Honda 1min 29.806 secs
12. Carlos Checa SPA Tech 3 Yamaha 1min 29.842 secs
13. Chris Vermulen AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 1min 29.941 secs
14. Randy de Puniet FRA Kawasaki Racing Team 1min 30.342 secs
15. Alex Hofmann GER Ducati Marlboro Team 1min 30.387 secs
16. Michel Fabrizio ITA Fortuna Honda 1min 30.762 secs
17. James Ellison GBR Tech 3 Yamaha 1min 31.306 secs
18. Ivan Silva SPA Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1min 32.524 secs
19. Jose Luis Cardoso SPA Pramac d'Antin MotoGP 1min 32.576 secs

* Capirossi's time was set during the first session in the morning.

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WCM To Return To MotoGP in 2007

In another stroke of synchronicity, in the weekend that former WCM rider Michel Fabrizio is to return to MotoGP for a race, his former team, WCM, have announced that they will once again return to MotoGP in 2007, with a two bike team. For more details, see the BBC news item. No news on what bikes they will be riding, but with a possible shortage of bikes on the grid as a result of the move to 800 cc next year, this can only be good news for MotoGP.

UPDATE has more on this story. WCM are once again developing their own 800cc prototype to run in the 2007 MotoGP series. We can only hope that it will be more successful than the ill-starred 990 cc project.

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Michel Fabrizio To Replace Elias At Donington

DFX Honda World Superbike rider Michel Fabrizio is to replace Toni Elias, who was injured in a fall at Assen last week, on the Fortuna Honda for this weekend's Donington Grand Prix. Fabrizio is no stranger to MotoGP, having run last year on the WCM Harris bike as team mate to James Ellison. The Honda RC 211V is a different proposition to last year's WCM bike, which was loosely based on a Yamaha R1 engine, before being totally rebuilt under pressure from the MSMA. Fabrizio's ride will only be for one Grand Prix, as Elias is expected to return for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring on July 16th.

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