LCR Honda rider Randy de Puniet sprang a surprise in the first MotoGP practice outing for the Alice TT Assen, occupying the top spot on the timesheet with a 1’37.842 lap that came from out of nowhere late in the session.

For the majority of the hour-long run, Fiat Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had resumed their inter-team tussle by trading fastest laps, but eventually the duo were usurped by flying Frenchman De Puniet and then Lorenzo by Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner –the rider with whom the leaders are tied on 106 points in the overall classification.

Just five-thousandths of a second divided De Puniet and Rossi, with Stoner a further three-hundredths down and Lorenzo only just unable to breach the 1’38 barrier. Trailing the early pacesetters were Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa, with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Colin Edwards just behind them, all under half-a-second down on De Puniet.

Adjusting to the track in the first practice run, many riders took a trip into the run-off areas in their quest to find the limit of their 800cc machinery. However, only one rider came off his bike, namely Scot Racing’s Yuki Takahashi. The Japanese rider suffered a highside that left him shaken but apparently uninjured.

1 Randy DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP Honda 1’37.842 284.135
2 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha 1’37.847 293.000 0.005
3 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati 1’37.877 291.105 0.035
4 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team Yamaha 1’38.061 285.789 0.219
5 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1’38.092 289.544 0.250
6 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team Honda 1’38.194 293.318 0.352
7 Colin EDWARDS USA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 1’38.205 292.921 0.363
8 Chris VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 1’38.350 289.855 0.508
9 James TOSELAND GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 1’38.379 285.563 0.537
10 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP Suzuki 1’38.429 291.891 0.587
11 Alex DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda 1’38.495 285.487 0.653
12 Nicky HAYDEN USA Ducati Marlboro Team Ducati 1’38.928 290.869 1.086
13 Mika KALLIO FIN Pramac Racing Ducati 1’39.464 285.789 1.622
14 Marco MELANDRI ITA Hayate Racing Team Kawasaki 1’39.597 288.615 1.755
15 Toni ELIAS SPA San Carlo Honda Gresini Honda 1’39.642 291.340 1.800
16 Sete GIBERNAU SPA Grupo Francisco Hernando Ducati 1’40.151 278.494 2.309
17 Yuki TAKAHASHI JPN Scot Racing Team MotoGP Honda 1’40.185 289.156 2.343
18 Niccolo CANEPA ITA Pramac Racing Ducati 1’41.020 283.018 3.178
19 Gabor TALMACSI HUN Scot Racing Team MotoGP Honda 1’41.380 276.852 3.538

—  Ducati Report

Ducati Marlboro Team riders Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden were at work a day earlier than usual today as free practice for the Dutch TT got underway at Assen, with the legendary race set to take place in its traditional slot of the final Saturday in June. The Australian set out on the right foot, just 0.035 seconds off the fastest lap of the session despite being held up by traffic.

Stoner, last year’s winner and the current lap record holder here, was immediately at ease with the base setting of his Desmosedici GP9 and was able to work calmly throughout the session on making gradual improvements to suit the intricacies of the fast and flowing layout. Stepping up his pace towards the end of the session, the 2007 World Champion finished third fastest but is confident of improvements tomorrow, as is 2006 champ Hayden, who was twelfth.

CASEY STONER (Ducati Marlboro Team) 3rd (1’37.877)
“This afternoon went really well for us and we’ve started off where we left off in Catalunya, which is a great sign. Generally with this bike we’ve had to make a lot of changes from track to track and we usually have to spend the first session working really hard to adapt the set-up, but on this occasion it feels good out of the box. We tried a couple of things during the session but once we got onto the harder front tyre it all clicked into place and we could have gone a lot faster but I got held up on a couple of laps and then on my last lap I pushed the front a bit too hard and ran wide. We still have some improvements to make but generally speaking it is very positive to start out on the pace – especially at such a windy circuit, because usually we struggle in the wind.”

NICKY HAYDEN – (Ducati Marlboro Team) 12th (1’38.928)
“We had some different ideas to try here with the electronics and we ran them at the beginning of the session but I didn’t like them, so we went back to something similar to what we had in Barcelona, which enabled us to move up a bit. The gap to the front is closer than it’s been at other tracks but unfortunately a second around here is a lot of time and our position is not much of an improvement. There are some parts of the track that are pretty good and other sections where I’m kind of in between gears so we obviously need to look at the transmission tonight and put it all together a little better for tomorrow. We’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re used to that! I’m running the number 22 on my helmet this weekend for a close friend of our family back in America, Nick Cummins, who got hurt in a dirt-track event recently. His Dad used to sponsor me when I was younger and I just want him and his family to know that we’re with them and thinking about them, hoping things come right.”

—  HRC

The Repsol Honda Team starts the Dutch GP well

Andrea Dovizioso, fifth, and Dani Pedrosa, sixth, work with the new chassis supplied by Honda

A positive start for the two Repsol Honda Team riders in the first free MotoGP practice session in the Dutch GP. After their first contact with the circuit of Assen both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso had positive impressions at the end of the session.

Dani Pedrosa, after total rest the last ten days so as to recover from the injuries on his right leg, returned to racing in good physical shape after the tough weekend two weeks ago in the GP de Catalunya. Pedrosa, who had to have pain-killing injections on each of the three days raing in Barcelona, got back to work today and set some good times right from the start. The Spanish Repsol Honda Team rider did not need another pain-killing injection to get the best out of his Honda RC212V, setting the 6th fastest time. Pedrosa rode the whole session with the modified chassis that Honda made available to him in Barcelona, the same one that his teammate Dovizioso used during practice on the Monday after the race. Dani had two motorbikes with the new chassis in the pits.

Andrea Dovizioso got back into his work clothes today after setting the fastest time on the day`s practice after the GP de Catalunya. It is worth mentioning the fact that Dovizioso was riding a bike with the modified chassis then, and the Italian Repsol Honda Team continued his work with it today on one of his bikes. Andrea set faster and faster times in today`s free practice session, until at the end of the 60 minutes he was 5th, just ahead of his teammate Dani Pedrosa.

Dani PEDROSA >> 1’38.194 secs, 26 laps, 118 km
“Riding felt much better today than it did at the last race in Barcelona which is a positive sign. Even without any painkilling injection I was able to ride with quite a good pace this afternoon so I’m very happy about that. Now, after riding, it doesn’t feel great and I have some pain, but that’s to be expected.
With some ice on it and some rest tonight, I’m expecting to feel in good shape for tomorrow’s sessions. The feeling with the new chassis is good and I immediately felt much more comfortable than in Barcelona. I still need to learn more about the new chassis, but the initial feeling is positive, with improvements under braking and stability. Obviously, I need to do more laps to better understand its performance so we’ll continue with that tomorrow.”

Andrea DOVIZIOSO >> 1’38.092 secs, 27 laps, 123 km
“The final result from the session was pretty reasonable – 5th place and two tenths from the front is a decent start. We’ll be looking to make some more improvements tomorrow though because I’m not totally satisfied with how the practice went and we struggled a little to find a good feeling with the bike, in particular under braking and on corner entry. Now we’ll analyse the data and come up with a plan for tomorrow, possibly working with the weight distribution to improve the set-up. It was actually quite a difficult practice session for me because I wasn’t feeling too well, so I’ll get checked out at the Clinica Mobile and be ready for tomorrow.”

—  Yamaha Report

Dutch TT gets underway with Rossi and Lorenzo second and fourth

The sun shone in Assen today as the 61st Dutch TT got underway, the seventh round of the MotoGP World Championship. Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, who jointly lead the championship with Casey Stoner and who both have impressive track records here, started the weekend off in strong fashion, finishing the day second and fourth respectively.

Following the excitement of the race in Barcelona there is an air of expectation surrounding the pair and they were indeed fast from the outset, remaining near or at the top of the standings throughout the hour-long session as they looked to refine their base set-ups around the 4.555km ‘Cathedral’. With temperatures in the mid-twenties conditions were perfect and both riders were happy with their progress through the opening practice, though Lorenzo lacked a little rear grip and will be looking to make an improvement in this area tomorrow morning in time for qualifying in the afternoon. Fastest man on track today was Randy de Puniet but Rossi was only 0.005 seconds off the Frenchman, with Lorenzo in turn just over two tenths off the front.

Valentino Rossi – Position: 2ndTime: 1’37.847Laps: 27
“I’m happy about today’s practice because I was fast from the start and I could ride the bike how I want. This is very important because it means that the modifications we made in Barcelona are working here too, even though this is a different type of track. Now we have one or two small things to fix in order to improve our overall performance and lap time further. Anyway, we’re there, second by just a tiny bit and feeling good. It seems there is a doubt for the weather on Saturday which is a pity; of course I hope it’s dry but if it’s going to be a wet race then I hope we have the chance for one or two wet laps before the race in warm-up otherwise it will be quite hard.”

Jorge Lorenzo – Position: 4thTime: 1’38.061Laps: 26
“Today wasn’t perfect but we were still quite fast and I am happy enough. It hasn’t been like Barcelona but anyway all the top riders are very close and we are only two tenths behind the lead. I expect tomorrow, with the riders all close like this, times will get even quicker so we need to check a few things and make some small improvements to our setting. Everyone seems to be expecting another race like we had in Barcelona but I don’t think this is something that can happen every time! We just have to keep focused and do our best, and hopefully keep our target of getting on the podium again on Saturday.”

Davide Brivio – Team Manager
“We made a good start today and Valentino was at the top throughout the session which is always a good sign! We tried the different tyres we have available from Bridgestone and also played around with the setting a bit in order to better suit it to the nature of this track, which is very different to the last couple we have been to. We’ve collected some good information and tomorrow morning we will start to put it all together to find the best package.”

Daniele Romagnoli – Team Manager
“We started the session using the base we developed during the Barcelona test, with just a few adaptations to suit the Assen layout. We have quite a good pace but we need to work on improving the rear grip tomorrow because at the moment Jorge has a few problems going into the turn and also in acceleration. We will have a look at the data and tomorrow try a few new things.”

Positive start for Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team in Assen

The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team enjoyed an encouraging start to the Dutch GP at the historic Assen circuit, Colin Edwards and James Toseland lapping within half-a-second of the quickest time in today’s practice session.

Using a longer wheelbase setting on his YZR-M1 machine for the first time since pre-season testing, Edwards started his quest for a second successive podium in Holland with the seventh best time.

The Texan, who topped the timesheets for part of the 60-minute session, ended with a fastest time of 1.38.205 to finish just 0.363s away from Randy de Puniet’s best pace.

British rider Toseland had arguably his best opening day of the 2009 campaign. The Assen World Superbike race winner instantly benefited from a radically revised set-up on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1 after lengthy consultations with Fiat Yamaha Team Director Masahiko Nakajima after the last race in Catalunya.

Toseland was immediately able to find a fast pace running a softer rear shock spring and revised footpeg, handlebar and seat positions. Less than 20 minutes had elapsed when the 28-year surged into the top three, with only Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa faster.

He was easily able to maintain a place in the top six until a typically frantic conclusion to the session, though Toseland was just 0.537s away from the best time in ninth.

Colin Edwards 7th 1.38.205 – 27 laps
“It was a reasonable day without being spectacular. I’ve gone back to a longer wheelbase setting I haven’t run since winter testing and it’s similar to what Valentino (Rossi) and Jorge (Lorenzo) have been running. There are some advantages and some disadvantages but I’ve still got a small issue on the front like I had during the last race in Catalunya. I’m not able to turn into the corner as quickly as I’d like, and it feels like I’m waiting on the front before I can go through the corner. But the longer wheelbase has made it probably the best bike I’ve ever been on for the last part of this track. It’s so stable in the fast sections and I’m able to make up a lot of time, so there’s some good and some bad with it. We’ve just got to make some adjustments to make the bike turn a bit better and I feel confident that I can be pushing for another podium here. I love this track and have had some good results and would love to give Monster Yamaha Tech 3 a rostrum for all the h ard work everybody is putting in. That would be a massive confidence boost for me too with Laguna Seca coming up.”

James Toseland 9th 1.38.379 – 26 laps
“It was good today and I enjoyed it out there. I know this track very well and that makes a massive difference when you come to a familiar track. All my knowledge of this place means I’m not thinking about where I need to be and I can just concentrate on the bike. I’m not too worried about being in ninth because the times are so close and I’m only half-a-second off first. I’m just pleased that I’m close to the front on the first day rather than being 1.1 or 1.2s off. My bike was a lot different today and we’ve moved more weight to the back. My bike has been set-up for a lot of grip, but as soon as the race tyre started to wear, I struggled and it’s amazing how sensitive these bikes are to weight. We’ve gone a lot softer on the rear spring to get more load on the rear and I’ve got the grip and the drive now. I’d like to thank Mr Nakajima from Yamaha. I had a meeting with him on Sunday night in Barcelona and he has been in my garage all through that session giving me some help and I really appreciate his effort. This new setting feels quite a bit different because we’ve changed footpeg and handlebar position too, and while it doesn’t feel as comfortable as my old setting, I’m definitely going round the track quicker and that’s the main thing.”

—  Suzuki Report

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP riders Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi began the Dutch TT weekend at Assen in a positive style as they both showed marked improvements during today’s practice session.

Vermeulen (P8, 1’38.350, 24 laps) was only 0.508 seconds off the fastest time of the day and is convinced that time can be made up in tomorrow’s session. He and his crew put in a large amount of work in the 60-minutes that was available to them today and the labour paid dividends as Suzuki’s Australian star improved every time he went back out on track. Today’s fastest time was set by Randy de Puniet on a satellite Honda as he followed Vermeulen for a lap and used the Suzuki’s slipstream to good effect.

Capirossi (P10, 1’38.429) was equally positive with his first day’s endeavours as he clocked a time just 0.079 seconds behind his team-mate. Capirossi lapped the 4,555m Assen circuit 27 times to make him one of the busiest riders on track today. He concentrated on finding a good durability from his Bridgestone race tyres and finished the session with the same front tyre that he had started with and, even though it had gone over a race distance, Capirossi was very pleased with the performance.

Today’s practice was held in very sunny but slightly breezy conditions with track temperature reaching 25ºC. Both of the Suzuki GSV-Rs looked resplendent today as they were adorned with a Rizla logo in Dutch orange to celebrate the national colour of the Netherlands, at what is almost a ‘home’ race for team’s title sponsor.

Rizla Suzuki has a final free practice session tomorrow morning, before an hour of qualifying in the afternoon. This week’s race is the only Saturday event on the MotoGP calendar and the lights will change to go for the 79th Dutch TT at 14.00hrs local time (12.00hrs GMT) on Saturday 27th June.

Chris Vermeulen: “It’s been great weather at Assen for the first day of practice and it gave us a good whole hour in which we could get a lot of work done. The conditions were very consistent for the session and it gave us a good opportunity to get the bike working. We tried different geometry settings between both bikes and definitely found a good direction to head with that. The mechanics worked really hard to find the best set-up today and we also tried both types of tyre – front and rear – so we know what is also working well there. We have some ideas to help the bike work well tomorrow and hopefully it will be another dry day and we’ll be able to go even quicker.”

Loris Capirossi: “This first practice has been quite good for us today because I didn’t have a lot of information from last year as I only did one session, so it felt quite new for me here on a Suzuki. The bike was working well and we only changed a few things during the practice. I did the whole session with one front tyre and at the end when I tried to push a bit harder it started to move a bit more, but it still felt good so I’m happy with that. Overall it has been a good first day and now I want to get straight back on the bike and make things even better!”

Paul Denning – Team Manager: “It has been a positive first day’s work here in Assen and whilst the positions are not super-exciting the time gap to the top riders is much closer than it was a year ago. Both Chris and Loris have found a good rhythm straight away and we still have quite a bit more left in the truck to try tomorrow, which we hope will create further improvements. In general Assen seems a much more optimistic place for Rizla Suzuki than it was 12 months ago. It will certainly be as tough as it always is in MotoGP, but we are getting closer all the time and we’d like to keep that momentum going.”

— Bridgestone Report

Slick tyre compounds available: Front: Soft, Medium. Rear: Soft, Medium

Using medium compound front and rear Bridgestone slicks, LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet snatched the top spot for the first time this year in the closing minutes of the hour-long free practice session. The Frenchman finished just 0.005 seconds ahead of Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (using the medium compound slicks) in the closest gap of the season, equal to that between Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo during qualifying for the French GP.

Also using the medium compound Bridgestone slicks, Ducati Team’s Casey Stoner was third, just 0.035 seconds adrift of de Puniet. The top eleven riders were split by fewer than 0.7 seconds.

The weather for free practice, held on Thursday in Assen rather than the normal Friday slot, remained dry and sunny, giving the teams the opportunity to conduct valuable running on Bridgestone’s soft and medium compound slicks in consistent track conditions. By the end of the session, the medium compound Bridgestone slicks were favoured for their increased stability.

Tohru Ubukata – Bridgestone Motorsport – Manager Motorcycle Race Tyre Development
“We had the chance to gather more good data from our soft and medium compound slicks today in conditions that were consistent and at a more normal temperature than we experienced in Catalunya. During the session we saw riders using both tyre options and both worked well in these conditions showing a good overlap of each tyre’s operating range. The stability given by the medium compound slicks is better which is why they were preferred in these conditions at this track.

“Assen is a flowing circuit which is why the temperature of the shoulder area of the tyres is quite high on both the fronts and rears. Almost all the corners here are high-speed and riders enter them trailing the brakes, especially the front, which loads the front of the bike more and is the reason that the front tyre shoulder temperatures are higher. However even in these conditions I am happy with the consistency of both compounds.”

— Minor Categories

IBarcelona racewinner Álvaro Bautista kept up his momentum on Thursday, riding fastest of all the 250cc riders. The Mapfre Aspar rider is chasing his fourth pole position of the year, and set himself up well with a 1’40.617 lap.

He was the only rider to break into the 1’40s in the sunny afternoon run, although fellow Spaniard Héctor Barberá came within two-thousandths of a second of joining him. The Pepeworld man was second quickest, with Mike di Meglio, Alex Debón and Mattia Pasini the only riders within a second of Bautista’s crushing fast lap.

Marco Simoncelli’s Barcelona woes continued in Assen with another crash for the reigning World Champion. The Metis Gilera rider –yesterday confirmed as a MotoGP entrant for 2010- lost the front end of his bike midway through the session, and was forced to sit by and watch as his mechanics looked to repair the machine.

World Championship leader Julián Simón was the quickest rider out of the blocks in the opening 125cc practice session, stopping the clock at 1’46.725 onboard his Bancaja Aspar two-stroke machine.

The Spaniard was some dead-on two-tenths of a second quicker than second fastest man Sergio Gadea, his teammate in Jorge Martinez Aspar’s successful 125cc structure. Simón’s lap knocked Gadea off the top spot in the final moments of the session.

Nico Terol, riding as the number one rider for the Jack&Jones WRB team for the first time following the departure of Simone Corsi from the Sito Pons-run outfit, continued the form that had taken him onto the podium in Barcelona two weeks ago, placing third ahead of title contender Bradley Smith in a tight top four.
The final practice sessions for the Alice TT Assen start tomorrow at 9.00am with 125cc action, followed by MotoGP and 250cc. Qualifying for all three classes takes place in the afternoon, a day earlier than is customary in the 2009 season.

Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup

Points leader Sturla Fagerhaug has 26 opponents snapping at his heels going into the second day of qualify on Friday ready for Saturday’s 4th race in the 2009 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. The 17 year old Norwegian showed how well he knows the Dutch TT track but realises that 16 year old Jakub Kornfeil from the Czech Republic is just the first of those who would like to knock him out of Pole Position.

“This is not really a favourite track of mine,” admitted Kornfeil who was just 4 tenths slower than Fagerhaug and second quickest. “I like the big open tracks like Mugello and Brno but the bike is working so well, I’ve got a good feeling, plenty of grip and the engine is running well so I am just enjoying riding it. I am not going to change anything for tomorrow, just ride.”

Under 2 tenths slower again was third place man Alex Kristiansson, the 15 year old Swede. “I enjoyed that, it was a lot of fun, a bit windy but not too much of a problem. I am looking forward to having more fun with the bike tomorrow,” grinned Kristiansson, doing so well in his first season in the Cup and making use of the fact that he raced in a Dutch national event at Assen a few weeks ago to better know the track.

They still have to find something special if the are going to depose Fagerhaug who did head the leader-board for most of the time during the first, non-qualifying session as well as the 30 minute timed session. “I am quite happy with that,” said Fagerhaug. “I got going reasonably fast but then when I wanted to go a bit quicker it wasn’t so easy. The wind kept changing direction and I was looking for a good slipstream as well and didn’t find one. It is OK though, the lap times were pretty consistent and I will see what I can do tomorrow.”

An impressive 6th fastest is Californian 15 year old Jake Gagne, still building his road race experience and having his first visit to Assen. “I enjoyed that, it’s a fun track, especially the fast sections. I’ve got to do some work on the first, slower section. I think that is where I am losing my time. I also want to talk to the WP suspension guy because the rear is sliding quite a lot through the fast stuff.”

Even more impressive, for he has even less road race experience, is Arthur Sissis, the Australian speedway expert who has just turned 14 and in his first roadrace season. He stands 7th fastest just ahead of Austrian 13 year old Nico Thöni. “That was a lot of fun,” said Thöni. “The bike is working so well, both handling and engine. It is great to ride especially in the fast sections. I want to improve my breaking for the first corner, I think I can pick up some time there but otherwise I think it is all good.”

Danny Kent, the 15 year old Englishman, who lies second to Fagerhaug in points was 4th fastest and clearly intends to cut that Cup lead if he can. Two who should have similar ideas, Daijiro Hiura and Mathew Scholtz, both fell during the day and though unhurt, were only 9th and 13th fastest.