Motorcycling: Doohan sets pace at Suzuka

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The Independent Online

MICHAEL DOOHAN, the reigning 500cc world champion, was fastest in the first qualifying session for tomorrow's opening Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Despite complaining that the new regulations enforcing the use of unleaded fuel would slow down his Honda, the Australian lapped the 5.864km (3.644- mile) track in 2min 07.641sec, well inside his own 1997 circuit record of 2:07.782.

Doohan, chasing his fifth successive 500cc title in his 10th season in grand prix racing, was pushed hard by a pack of local riders. Noriyuki Haga, a wild-card entry on a Yamaha, was closest, clocking 2:07.727.

Tadayuki Okada, who won the Indonesian Grand Prix last season, was third fastest on a Honda in 2:07.872.

Most significantly, there were three Yamahas in the top five yesterday - auguring well for the manufacturer after a season in which Honda won every race - and five Japanese riders in the top seven. Yamaha have not won the 500cc title since 1992.

Italy's Max Biaggi, moving up to the top class with Honda after winning the 250cc title for four years in a row, was sixth after promising tests.