Before the Sinopec Great Wall Lubricants Grand Prix of China, most commentators, including this one, predicting total domination by Ducati. Fortunately, the racing gods decided that such hubris could not go unpunished, and decided to mix things up a bit. Although the Ducatis are clearly significantly faster down the back straight, the other manufacturers have all closed the gap, managing to stay in touch despite the top speed deficit, then following, and even leading, through the ridiculously slow sections of the track.
It soon became clear that it wasn't just the commentators who were concentrating on the Ducatis: the scene in the turns before the long back straight were more reminiscent of 125 qualifying than MotoGP, with groups of riders waiting around for a Ducati to pass, hoping to slipstream them. This proved to be a successful strategy. Where in Qatar, the Ducatis walked away from the other bikes, in Shanghai, the others could follow, losing ground only very slowly.
The day's practice sessions also showed that the two companies that have been suffering the most, Michelin at Istanbul and Honda just about everywhere, have found some answers. Michelin is no longer dominating like they have previously, but the top of the timesheet is a fair mix of Bridgestone and Michelin runners, unlike in Turkey. And Honda have found something for some of their riders, reigning world champion topping the timesheets for a brief period for the first time since last season, to finish a very respectable 4th.
Friday's big winner was John Hopkins. The Rizla Suzuki man was constantly near the top of the timesheets, taking the fastest lap time with several minutes to go. Behind Hopkins, Marco Melandri nicked 2nd, on his later laps, with the Repsol Honda pair of Dani Pedrosa and a very relieved Nicky Hayden in 3rd and 4th respectively. Loris Capirossi is the first of the Ducatis in 5th, ahead of the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards, and Capirex' team mate Casey Stoner in 8th. The running order is almost arbitrary, however, with the first 8 covered by just a quarter of a second. Pramac d'Antin Ducati man Alex Hofmann is in 9th, while LCR Honda's Carlos Checa rounds out the top 10.
The times are incredibly close, with the top 15 covered by just over a second, and the first 8 within a quarter of that. Fortunately the session was dry, despite a thick haze of mist and pollution, allowing riders to find a tire and setup, but tomorrow's qualifying practice could be an entirely different affair, with rain forecast.
The qualifying session saw one casualty, Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque falling in the final turn, and opening a gash in his arm which severely damaged the muscles in his lower arm. The injury is likely to keep him out of racing for at least several weeks, continuing OJ's ill-fated 2007 season.
Best times of the day, all set during Free Practice Session 2.
||Randy de Puniet
||Kenny Roberts Jr
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