If the conditions this morning were perfect at Laguna Seca, the conditions this afternoon were even more so, as impossible as that sounds. And Casey Stoner was like the weather: Perfect in the morning, even more perfect in the afternoon. In fact, Stoner is as scary fast here as he was at the Sachsenring. Not that Stoner's fast times in practice did him much good during the race in Germany, but one glance at Stoner's lap times shows a terrifying consistency, lap after lap of low 1'23s. That looks like being race pace, and good enough to win come Sunday.
The other man to be so quick is Marco Melandri. Melandri has traveled a long road at Laguna, going from hating the place, and crashing badly 3 times at his first visit in 2005, to loving the place last year, to being very quick here this year. Behind Melandri is John Hopkins, who also had a good session. His first run during the afternoon featured a long, consistent run of 1'23 laps, a solid foundation to build on tomorrow.
In 4th spot is Colin Edwards, who also has a solid pace. Edwards was constantly at the front in both of today's sessions, and looks promising for the race. Behind Edwards was Dani Pedrosa. In contrast to the top 4 and Rossi, Pedrosa's time was set late in the session, on a single fast lap. Both Repsol Hondas have struggled, despite finishing 5th and 8th, spending most of the session a way down the timesheets, pulling out fast laps at the end to move them up the standings.
Valentino Rossi is in 6th spot, but was again consistently fast throughout the session. Chris Vermeulen took 7th, running well at one of his favorite tracks, only knocked out of the top 6 by Pedrosa's fast lap. For most of the session, only the first 6 were within 1 second of the Stoner, but towards the end, a few more people managed to close up the gap, with Nicky Hayden, Loris Capirossi and Makoto Tamada closing to within 1 second, and Carlos Checa just 1/1000th of a second outside of a second.
The Dunlop riders ran surprisingly well, and though Tamada's time was set on qualifiers, Sylvain Guintoli's time was set after a long run. And with the places 10 to 16 all within half a second of each other, 14th spot is pretty good.
As for the American wild cards, Roger Lee Hayden did remarkably well, taking 15th spot ahead of regulars Alex Barros (who is still suffering with a hand injury), Kurtis Roberts and Shinya Nakano. Hayden even nipped ahead of his world champion brother at one point during the session, though Nicky quickly put an end to that. Miguel Duhamel is having a tougher time, for the first time he has ridden the bike, but he is almost in touch with the MotoGP regulars, and is also not known for setting great times during practice.
Kurtis Roberts has a new chassis at Laguna, and so far, he seems to be making progress. He has moved up from languishing at the bottom of the field, and though he is still a little way out of contention, he is much closer than he has been for a while. Promising stuff indeed for Team KR.
The man with the toughest job this weekend is Chaz Davies. The former 250 rider from Britain originally arrived at Laguna thinking he would be riding his Supersport and Formula Xtreme machines in the AMA races, but after Alex Hofmann was ruled out with a hand injury suffered during the first free practice session, Davies stepped in to take the 2nd Pramac d'Antin Ducati. He has done exactly what was required from him in his first session, setting ever faster laps through the practice, to end up within a second of Duhamel and 1.5 seconds of Nakano. By the time the race comes around, he should be ready to run with the regulars, not bad for someone who has never ridden a MotoGP bike before.
Practice continues tomorrow, with Qualifying in the afternoon.
||Randy DE PUNIET
||Roger Lee HAYDEN
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