Stoner opens 2008 account with BMW M Award win

2008-02-17 22:13
Reigning MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner opened the first competitive activity of 2008 with a comprehensive victory in the BMW M Award qualifying shootout, which took place just after 2pm at an uncharacteristically wet Circuito de Jerez.

Stoner needed just five laps onboard his Ducati Desmosedici GP8 to ensure that the BMW Z4 M Roadster would be heading to Australia, clocking an early lap of 1'49.263 that was unrivalled by any of his fellow MotoGP riders. Whilst the winner of the 40-minute timed session is rarely the man lifting the World Championship trophy at the end of the season, the early dominance was a clear stamp of authority by the 22 year-old and will cause his rivals a few sleepless nights ahead of the first race in Qatar on March 9th.

The current title holder's performance put to bed any doubts as to whether either himself or tyre manufacturers Bridgestone would be competitive at the Spanish circuit after an slower day for both parties yesterday. In a mixture of qualifying and race tyres on the opening day of the MotoGP Official Test, Michelin had occupied every place in the top five, and Stoner was comparatively off the pace. His scorching lap today also renders questions as to his ability at Jerez - where he injured his shoulder in the final test of 2007 - all but obsolete.

The session began with Stoner undertaking the first five of his total of nine laps, and his opening outing already put him at the head of the standings. It also saw a first head-to-head battle with Valentino Rossi, with some 'mind games' taking place on track just five minutes into the session. After setting down his marker, Stoner then returned to the pits and watched the action unfold for over a quarter of an hour, eventually re-emerging for a further four laps worthy of the BMW prize.

In contrast to the 2007 edition of the event, there was to be no late drama in Jerez from Valentino Rossi. Whilst the Italian put himself up into second place with only time for one lap remaining, a final push never materialised on the still unfamiliar Bridgestone qualifying tyres for the five-time MotoGP World Champion. Twice a winner of the preseason prize, Rossi had to settle for the unrewarded runner-up spot with a time over a second slower than that of his Australian rival.

2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden also had a late but unfruitful attempt at a Stoner-challenging lap, finishing third fastest after topping the timesheets yesterday. The 'Kentucky Kid' was the leading Michelin rider in the 40 minute session.

A wet weather specialist, Anthony West fancied his chances of a competitive time, although the drying-out track didn't give him enough of an advantage to really challenge his countryman Stoner. The Kawasaki rider set his quickest time at the midway point in the session, but still held off the likes of Andrea Dovizioso and Shinya Nakano in the top six.

West's team-mate John Hopkins elected against an appearance in the session owing to his ongoing groin injury pain, as fellow member of the injured contingent Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa. As per a change in format for the season-long version of the BMW M Award, both remain eligible for the qualifying total prize.

There were run-offs for Alex De Angelis, James Toseland and Loris Capirossi, whilst the remainder of the top ten consisted of the Italian veteran, LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet, Alice Team newcomer Sylvain Guintoli on the second fastest Ducati machine, and factory rider Marco Melandri.

Following the session there was very little activity before race direction called an early halt to proceedings due to high winds at the southern Spanish circuit. Tomorrow will see a final day of MotoGP practice at the Jerez track.

Source: Dorna Communications

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