As the hot sun and a coating of tyre rubber gradually brought a shine to the track during the one- hour timed practice, so the speeds quickened and the times came tumbling down. Doohan was the first to establish a mark to beat on his Honda, but Schwantz was to have the final say on his Suzuki. His best lap amounted to 1min 33.870sec, just three-tenths of a second slower than his pole-position time of last year. Doohan was relegated to third place on the provisional starting grid in the final minutes of the session by Luca Cadalora, the winner last year, who posted a time of 1:33.893 on his Yamaha.
Schwantz, still hampered by injury to his left wrist, said: 'It just goes to show that anything can happen. I'm surprised to be fastest because this is a hard track for me and my wrist is painful. I can't force the bike around like I used to do.
'I'm struggling to get the bike back from one side of the track to the other, and that's crucial here because all the corners link up real fast. So the bike's about as good as I can ride it right now.'
The tall Texan is faced with the formidable task of keeping the world championship alive this weekend, and anything less than a fourth victory here will see the title pass to Doohan.
The provisional front row after qualifying yesterday was completed by the Spaniard Alberto Puig, on a Honda, who lapped fractionally faster than the two Cagivas of the American pair, John Kocinski and Doug Chandler. Alexandre Barros, of Brazil, Schwantz's Suzuki team-mate, was seventh quickest, followed by the Scot Niall Mackenzie on a Yamaha, Alex Criville, of Spain, on a Honda and, in 10th position, Britain's wild-card entry, Carl Fogarty, on a Cagiva.
There is the standard contingent of walking wounded here. Even at the highest level - where money is no object and technology moves as fast as Japan's Shinichi 'Mr 200mph' Itoh - when man falls off bike, something has to give and there is an accident in every session.
The latest patient for the plaster-caster was 18-year-old Norifumi Abe, racing in only his second grand prix. The Japanese was chosen by Kenny Roberts to fill in for the injured Daryl Beattie in the Yamaha team. But the former domestic champion crashed in the morning's untimed practice, broke his wrist and was concussed, making him, like the man he replaced, a spectator for tomorrow's race.
BRITISH GRAND PRIX (Donington) Leading positions after first qualifying session: 500cc: 1 K Schwantz (US) Suzuki 1min 33.870secs; 2 L Cadalora (It) Yamaha 1:33.893; 3 M Doohan (Aus) Honda 1:34.056; 4 A Puig (Sp) Honda 1:34.605; 5 J Kocinski (US) 1:34.674; 6 D Chandler (US) Cagiva 1:34.856; 7 A Barros (Bra) Suzuki 1:35.856; 8 N Mackenzie (GB) Yamaha 1:35.061; 9 A Criville (Sp) Honda 1:35.404; 10 C Fogarty (GB) Cagiva 1:35.460.Reuse content