Alex Barros dodged his way through intermittent spells of rain and high winds at the Estoril circuit on Friday to set the fastest lap times in both of the opening free practice sessions for the betandwin.com Grande Premio de Portugal.
Cheered on by a travelling band of Brazilian supporters, Barros signalled his intent to recover from a demoralising opening round in Jerez last weekend, where he finished in a distant fourth place as only Marco Melandri finished within 20 seconds of Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau, producing a dominant performance and topping the time sheets by over half a second.
"I'm really happy with today - not just because of the lap time but also with the rhythm," commented Barros, whose team-mate Troy Bayliss escaped unhurt from a spectacular crash. "We've done a great job finding a base setting for the bike, even though the track conditions were cold today and there wasn't much grip. The weather forecast is good for tomorrow so we'll keep working, but we've definitely made a better start here than we did in Jerez."
Whilst Gibernau was second fastest today, with Nicky Hayden completing an all-Honda top three, Colin Edwards confirmed recent progress in a day of tests at Jerez last Monday to lap fourth fastest ahead of Ducati's Carlos Checa and his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi. Max Biaggi also seems to have made progress since Jerez, moving into the top seven today ahead of Shinya Nakano, the only Kawasaki representative after Alex Hofmann was ruled out of the weekend's action with a wrist problem.
Hofmann has been confirmed with a fractured scaphoid, sustained in a freak crash during a pre-event promotion in Estoril on Wednesday afternoon. The Japanese factory team has confirmed that they will not be replacing the German youngster.
"Too many top racers have ended their careers through coming back too early after fracturing their scaphoid, which is why we decided that the best course of action would be to withdraw from this weekend's race, rather than risk further injury," explained Hofmann. "Although I'm devastated to be missing the Portuguese Grand Prix, I need to put this weekend behind me and focus completely on getting myself back to full fitness for the race in Shanghai in two weeks' time."
Sebastián Porto emerged unscathed after a nasty crash at the end of the first qualifying session for the 250cc race, although it ended his hopes of dislodging Dani Pedrosa from provisional pole position after another impressive display from the World Champion. Honda rider Pedrosa also held off the challenge of Randy de Puniet by just 0.029 seconds, whilst the Frenchman's Aprilia team-mate Porto was third fastest and factory colleague Alex de Angelis completed the provisional front row.
Mika Kallio clinched provisional pole position in the 125cc class with an impressive lap time just half a second off the lap record, held by Hector Barberá. Kallio was 0.412 seconds clear of nearest challenger Mattia Pasini, with Gabor Talmacsi and Lukas Pesek completing the front row. Early championship leader Marco Simoncelli was fifth fastest.
Source: Dorna Communications
Photo: Honda Pro Image