The Australian Grand Prix weekend kicked off today with the first practice session taking place at the Phillip Island circuit in preparation for Sunday’s 27-lap race. Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso got to grips with the spectacular ocean-side track as they began setting-up their factory Honda RC212Vs for Phillip Island’s combination of fearsomely fast corners and suspension-pounding bumps.
Pedrosa was quick off the mark and clocked the third fastest time this afternoon – a lap of 1m 31.528s, which was less than half a second from the time of today’s pace-setter, Valentino Rossi. It was a promising start for the 24-year-old Spaniard who is looking to consolidate third place in the World Championship standings ahead of Casey Stoner, who rides in front of his home crowd this weekend. Stoner placed second today, just 0.361s in front of Pedrosa.
Dovizioso shrugged off the effects of an upset stomach to record a competitive lap of 1m 32.502s – good enough for eighth place – and give himself a good chance of improving over the weekend. The 23-year-old Italian worked with his crew on finding the delicate balance of machine set-up required for Phillip Island, and with more adjustment tomorrow the winner of the 2004 125cc Grand Prix is confident of moving further up the timesheets.
The weather at Phillip Island in the run-up to the Grand Prix weekend has been typical for springtime in this part of Australia: intermittent bright sunshine combined with heavy rain showers driven in by a strong wind. Those conditions were expected again this afternoon, but instead the MotoGP riders were greeted by continuous bright sunshine when they exited the pit-lane at 13.55. That said, few are betting against rain at some stage this weekend.
DANI PEDROSA – 3rd – 1m 31.528s
“Finally we were lucky with the weather today and it’s very good to start here in Phillip Island with a dry session and reasonable track temperatures. It allowed us to complete some useful testing with the Bridgestone tyres and, although the surface was a little dusty, grip should improve through the weekend. We tried both the softer and harder tyre compounds today and it’ll be an important choice for Sunday because the 4pm race start means the temperature could be low. So we need to analyse carefully how fast the tyres will warm up, especially on the left side because there are so many left-handers here. I’m pretty happy with how this first practice has gone and I’m sure the times will fall further tomorrow, weather permitting.”
ANDREA DOVIZIOSO – 8th – 1m 32.502s
“It was good to get out on track today because Phillip Island is a fantastic circuit and riding here is always a great challenge. The track demands a completely different machine set-up and balance for the Bridgestone tyres and we haven’t achieved that quite yet so I’m hoping for some improvements tomorrow – we have a few areas to work on. We started today with our machine set a bit too hard and, although we made things softer through the practice, I think we’ll make things softer still for tomorrow. I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent today, but actually that didn’t affect the way I was able to ride the bike, and hopefully I should be in better shape for the remainder of the weekend. We were lucky with the weather today and it would be nice if it stayed clear. Still, we’ll be ready for anything.”
KAZUHIKO YAMANO – REPSOL HONDA TEAM MANAGER
“This was a reasonably positive start for us and gives us the opportunity to have a good weekend. Dani’s pace was promising straight away and with some further attention to set-up tomorrow we’re hoping he can achieve a strong qualifying position and be very competitive in the race. Andrea’s a little further back today but we have a few ideas to improve his set-up and that should allow him to move forward in tomorrow’s sessions. The weather here is just as we’ve come to expect – unpredictable! So the Repsol Honda Team will be ready and waiting for both dry and wet conditions.”