Both of today's sessions took place in the wet, but while the track dried out as FP1 progressed, FP2 took place in a proper downpour. With the track soaking, it's no surprise to see Chris Vermeulen's name at the top of the timesheets, the Suzuki man a renowned rain rider. Vermeulen dominated the last 10 minutes or so of the session, and was fast throughout.
The big surprise was James Toseland. Toseland has only ridden the track testing a Ducati superbike, and on a brief test of the Ducati MotoGP bike after winning the World Superbike crown in 2004, but the British rookie spent a couple of days after the Le Mans Grand Prix testing rain tires for Michelin at Clermont Ferrand in France. His work has immediately started paying dividends, for until Vermeulen started running very quick times at the end of the session, Toseland was the man to beat.
Like Vermeulen, Nicky Hayden got faster towards the end of the session, though Hayden is still struggling in the drier conditions. But Casey Stoner is not struggling at all. Stoner only did 8 laps this morning, but all of them counted. The reigning world champion did more laps this afternoon, but was just as quick. Stoner has the wet weather setup, but with Sunday forecast to be sunny and dry, it's wasted information.
The big loser of the day was Marco Melandri. Melandri was over 12 seconds down on Vermeulen, and 5 seconds slower than the man ahead of him. It looks like being another long weekend for Melandri. Maybe dry weather will bring the Italian some more luck.
The soaking conditions proved extremely treacherous, with several riders having an off. Loris Capirossi failed to brake, and ran off into the gravel, eventually toppling over as he hit the air fence at low speed; Tady Okada lost the front with no warning at Scarperia, and bashed up his new pneumatic valve RC212V; but the worst crash of the day was Shinya Nakano, who bounced along in Mugello's narrow gravel traps, almost hitting the crash barrier. A very frightening crash indeed, and Nakano was lucky to get away without serious injury.
But the scariest part of the track was on the straight, just at the entrance to the pits. A stream of water was flowing across the track at that point, and all of the bikes were spinning up as they came through there. Loris Capirossi and Valentino Rossi had scary moments when their bikes got out of shape, but the most frightening moment of all was when Jorge Lorenzo hit the standing water at full throttle. Lorenzo almost had another huge high side, his Fiat Yamaha getting completely out of shape, before coming back into line. Lorenzo is healing well, hobbling around the paddock with and sometimes without crutches, but this incident could have put Lorenzo out for a long time. He was very lucky.
Practice continues tomorrow, and is expected to be much drier, if not completely dry.
||Randy DE PUNIET
||Alex DE ANGELIS