One of the interesting things to do when looking at times set in practice is to look at the full sequence of times set. A rider can end up at the top of the list by putting in a single fast lap on qualifying tyres, whilst struggling with race tyres. Other riders tend to concentrate on finding a decent race set up, and you can see that in their times: they'll go out and set consistent sequences of laps, all within a few 10ths of a second.
So, in the light of this, how are we to interpret Thursday's practice times? Here are the times set:
1 Kenny Roberts Jnr. Team Roberts KR211V 1:56.905
2 Casey Stoner Honda LCR Honda RC211V 1:56.911
3 Marco Melandri Fortuna Honda Honda RC211V 1:57.010
4 Colin Edwards Camel Yamaha Team Yamaha YZR-M1 1:57.024
5 Loris Capirossi Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati Desmosedici GP-6 1:57.031
6 Valentino Rossi Camel Yamaha Team Yamaha YZR-M1 1:57.141
7 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda Team Honda RC211V 1:57.360
8 Toni Elias Fortuna Honda Honda RC211V 1:57.392
9 Nicky Hayden Repsol Honda Team Honda RC211V 1:57.452
10 Sete Gibernau Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati Desmosedici GP-6 1:57.569
11 Carlos Checa Tech 3 Yamaha Yamaha YZR-M1 1:57.992
12 Chris Vermeulen Team Suzuki Suzuki GSV-R 1:58.783
13 Shinya Nakano Kawasaki Racing Team Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR 1:58.786
14 John Hopkins Team Suzuki Suzuki GSV-R 1:58.892
15 Alex Hofmann Team D'Antin Pramac Ducati Desmosedici GP-5 1:59.245
16 Makoto Tamada Konica Minolta Honda Honda RC211V 1:59.609
17 James Ellison Tech 3 Yamaha Yamaha YZR-M1 1:59.620
18 Randy De Puniet Kawasaki Racing Team Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR 2:00.216
19 Jose Luis Cardoso Team D'Antin Pramac Ducati Desmosedici GP-5 2:00.406
First, Roberts only did 11 full laps, most of which were 1.58s, with a couple of 1.57s thrown in for good measure. Stoner did 12 full laps, most of which were 1.57s. Melandris 14 laps were a mix of 1.58s and 1.57s, but both Rossi and Edwards did a lot of laps, 19 and 17 respectively, most of which were 1.57s. What's notable is that both Rossi and Edwards had long 8-lap runs at the end of the session, where they were running consistently in the low 1.57s. Capirossi and Hayden were both mainly running 1.58s, while Pedrosa was all over the place, with one fast lap, and otherwise varying from 1.58 to 2.00. Looking at the sequence, you can really see him learning to handle the bike. Which makes Stoner's reliable 1.57s look pretty astonishing, to be honest.
I think, seeing as Rossi, Edwards, and Stoner were all consistently lapping in the low 1.57s, that the race record (Hayden: 1.57.903) will be broken, nay, shattered. There's a good possibility that it will be pushed into the 1.56 mark.
You can see the lap sequence on the results page of the MotoGP site.