Rossi fastest in eventful Catalunya practice.

 Valentino Rossi began the Grand Prix of Catalunya weekend fastest in Friday free practice, during a session that saw a fall for MotoGP World Championship leader Casey Stoner, a surprise premier-class debut for Gabor Talmacsi and Nicky Hayden's best session as a Ducati rider. 

    Reigning six time MotoGP world champion Rossi, pushed back to third in the points behind Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, chased team-mate Lorenzo for much of the session before slicing ahead in the closing stages.

    The Fiat Yamaha star finished the hour 0.302sec quicker than home star Lorenzo with Stoner 0.598sec from the #46 for Ducati. Stoner suffered a lowside fall from his Desmosedici with 15 minutes of the hour remaining and had to finish the session on his spare bike.

    Fourth in practice, and where he has finished the last two races, was Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso, with the satellite LCR Honda of Randy de Puniet just behind him after an impressive performance.

    But perhaps the happiest rider in the top six was Hayden, who enjoyed by far his best session of the year so far by lapping half a second slower than team-mate Stoner. 

    Hayden is yet to finish a race higher than twelfth on the Desmosedici, something he will be aiming to change at round six - although it should be noted that the American was still 1.1sec slower than Rossi.

    Loris Capirossi was the leading Rizla Suzuki rider in seventh with Colin Edwards eighth for Monster Yamaha Tech 3.

    A surprise ninth place went to Scot Honda's Yuki Takahashi, whose place on the MotoGP grid has been put in doubt by Talmacsi's sudden arrival alongside him.

    The Japanese rookie responded excellently by lapping in the top half of the field, while former 125cc world champion Talmacsi closed the gap to the top from six seconds at the halfway mark of the hour to 4.6sec by the finish as he unsurprisingly rounded out the 19 rider field. 

    The final place in the top ten went to Tech 3's James Toseland, with Marco Melandri eleventh for Hayate and Sete Gibernau twelfth on his comeback from collarbone surgery.

    Chris Vermeulen was 13th on the second Suzuki, with Dani Pedrosa, who cracked his thigh bone in a near highside last time out at Mugello, 14th at the end of day one. Pedrosa, who won last year's race, was due to try a new chassis for his Repsol Honda during the session.

    This weekend's event is the first this year to feature dual compound rear slicks - harder on the right than the left - and also the first time that the extra-hard rear compound has been on offer.

    After the first eight minutes of Friday free practice in Catalunya, nobody other than Fiat Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo sat on top of the timesheets.

    The pair alternated the top spot frequently during the hour; home hero Lorenzo making three P1 appearances and leading most of the session, but Rossi set the fastest lap on seven occasions, the last of which saw him bump Lorenzo from the top with five minutes to go.

    Rossi and his crew had made a slight change to their base setting before they got started today and the reigning six time MotoGP world champion, who starts round six behind both Casey Stoner and Lorenzo in the points, was pleased with the results. 

    “We made some changes to our base setting here and already it feels much better to ride,” said the Italian, whose best lap was by 0.302sec quicker than Lorenzo. “This practice went very well for us, we were strong from start to finish and to be in first position feels good. 

    “We have found out some very interesting things, especially about my feeling with the bike, but we need to keep on working because there are still some parts that we want to make better for tomorrow. 

    “I am really happy to be able to ride the bike how I want to finally but there is still plenty more work to continue with to make sure we're in the best possible shape for tomorrow afternoon and Sunday,” he added.

    “It looks like we have found a better feeling for Valentino and this might help him to reach his potential,” confirmed team manager Davide Brivio. “Now we just need to work on fine-tuning it tomorrow.”

    Lorenzo, who is carrying a special FC Barcelona livery this weekend in honour of the Champions League-winning club, had no major complaints about his M1 although there is still room for improvement.

    “I always have a few doubts coming to each new track but today everything felt really good, my bike and my Bridgestone tyres,” said Lorenzo, presently four points behind Stoner and five ahead of Rossi. “I feel very comfortable and we can see that we have the potential to put on a really good performance here. 

    “We have a few things which we can improve so we will try to do that tomorrow but this is another good start for us. It's very early to be making any conclusions about who will be fighting on Sunday though and for now we just have to stay focused. It feels great to be out in front of all my home fans here and I am really happy to have the FC Barcelona stickers on my bike!” he declared.

    “We already have a good base-setting but we have identified one or two areas in which we can improve further still, especially in the hard acceleration,” revealed his team manager Daniele Romagnoli. 

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