The day's second free practice session took place under overcast skies, though it stayed dry throughout. And the fastest two men of the morning's practice were fastest once again for most of the afternoon. But this time, Casey Stoner didn't dominate the session like he had in the morning. In fact, it wasn't until 10 minutes from the end that Stoner finally managed to better the time set by Suzuki's John Hopkins. Once faster, though, he proceeded to set a series of blistering laps within half a second of the existing lap record set by Loris Capirossi during last year's race.
Stoner looked like having the fastest time of the session in the bag, until 5 minutes before the end, when we were treated to a real surprise. Sylvain Guintoli, aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha, put a Dunlop qualifier on the bike and put in a blistering lap to take 2nd spot from John Hopkins. A couple of minutes later, as the clock ticked down to the session's end, Guintoli went out again with another qualifier, and this time, took 2/10ths of a second off Stoner's time, to set the fastest time of the session. Guintoli had made clever use of the advantage which the Dunlops offer, not being subject to the tire quotas, as the company has not won a MotoGP race in recent history. His time will mean little come qualifying practice tomorrow, but today's performance is a major publicity coup.
This left Stoner down in 2nd, ahead of Hopkins in 3rd, with Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet 1/10th apart in 4th and 5th. Capirossi has a couple of fast laps, but was far from consistent, while de Puniet was constantly to be found near the top of the timesheets.
The first of the Michelin men was Valentino Rossi in 6th place, ahead of Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden. Rossi had struggled all session, sitting around 8th for much of practice, while Pedrosa was more consistent in his times. Nicky Hayden had started badly, but found a burst of speed in the last 10 minutes.
Guintoli's team mate Makoto set the 9th fastest time, also on a Dunlop qualifier, but was unlucky to get stuck in traffic on his fast lap. Hopper's team mate Chris Vermeulen rounded out the top 10.
There was one name missing from this afternoon's session, and that was Marco Melandri. The Italian, who is still suffering with a broken ankle sustained at Laguna Seca, had finished 15th in the first session of the day, 5 places down from his similarly injured team mate Toni Elias.
||Randy DE PUNIET
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