De Puniet springs Assen practice surprise.

Randy de Puniet made the most of a tow to set the fastest lap time during Thursday practice for the Dutch TT at Assen. 

    Having climbed to fifth place with three minutes remaining, the Frenchman's LCR Honda crossed the line in a time of 1min 37.842sec on the penultimate of his 25 laps, while following Chris Vermeulen, enough to place the satellite RC212V rider just 0.005sec clear of reigning six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi.

    Rossi, who will fight for his 100th grand prix victory on Saturday, made several appearances at the top of the timesheets throughout the hour for Fiat Yamaha before finishing the day just 0.030sec ahead of Ducati's Casey Stoner.

    Jorge Lorenzo was fourth fastest on the second factory M1, just 0.219sec behind de Puniet. Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo are equal on points and race wins after six rounds and another close contest looks in store in Saturday.

    Andrea Dovizioso used the latest Honda chassis to set the fifth best time, just ahead of injured Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, with Colin Edwards seventh for Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.

    Edwards, who crashed while leading at the final turn of the 2006 race, was fastest throughout the middle stages of the session and only 0.363sec behind de Puniet by the end of the session.

    Vermeulen was the top Suzuki rider in eighth, with James Toseland ninth for Tech 3 and Loris Capirossi tenth on the second GSV-R. The Italian was only 0.587sec from de Puniet.

    Alex de Angelis began the weekend with eleventh for Gresini Honda with Nicky Hayden the second best Ducati rider in twelfth position. Rookie Mika Kallio was 13th on the Pramac Ducati, now running the carbon fibre swingarm, with Marco Melandri fit enough for 14th after his Catalunya test accident.

    At the end of the timesheets, Yuki Takahashi suffered a heavy fall halfway through the session and limped away with a knee injury, while new Scot Honda team-mate Gabor Talmacsi was once again 19th and last, but only 2.3sec from de Puniet. 

    Having battled to the final turn in Catalunya, Fiat Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were separated by just 0.214sec during Thursday free practice at Assen.

    But both were beaten by the satellite Honda of Randy de Puniet, while Ducati's Casey Stoner - the third rider equal on points with Rossi and Lorenzo at the top of the championship - got between the M1 riders.

    That left Rossi in second position by just 0.005sec behind de Puniet, with Lorenzo in fourth place.

    “I'm happy about today's practice because I was fast from the start and I could ride the bike how I want,” said Rossi, who will be chasing his 100th grand prix victory on Saturday. “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.”

    However, Rossi is concerned that changeable weather might once again influence the results on race day.

    “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,” he added.

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