Biaggi benefits as Rossi skids off

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The opening qualifying session for tomorrow's British Grand Prix took on extra significance with the 500cc championship leader Valentino Rossi the victim of an increased urgency brought about by the threat of bad weather.

The Italian emerged unscathed after his 130mph crash at Craner Curves, on a greasy track caused by morning showers. The same could not be said, however, for his NSR500 and the session was delayed for seven minutes to clear debris.

In the one lap that the championship leader was able to complete on his spare bike, Rossi was unable to improve on his best time and finished the session in 11th place. Crucially, should rain prevent those times from being bettered, Rossi will start from the third row of the grid. To add insult to injury, Rossi's rival, Max Biaggi, set the fastest ever lap time around the circuit of 1min 31.964sec, holding off the challenge from another faller, Loris Capirossi.

Leon Haslam, already nursing a healing fractured wrist and a broken little finger, did not further add to his damaged skeleton following his own crash but could qualify only in 15th place. He is one of a clutch of 500cc British riders for whom expectations do not run high. Chris Walker has been a constant crasher but completed 25 laps despite the concussion he suffered after the worst of his falls, at Assen last week, and set the 14th fastest lap. Jason Vincent, despite being offered a one-off ride on the Red Bull Yamaha that is vacant due to injury to Garry McCoy, was also down in 19th place.

Again it was left to the 250cc veteran, Jeremy McWilliams, to raise home hopes with a provisional pole performance to follow his victory in Assen last week, the first time a British rider had won a grand prix for 15 years.