The British newcomer Cal Crutchlow yesterday out-performed the reigning MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo to finish a scintillating fourth fastest in practice for tomorrow's British round of the series here on his Tech 3 Yamaha.
Crutchlow, 25, was a huge 2.433 seconds off the pace of the day's quickest rider, the Australian Casey Stoner. But the British fans at a circuit, alternately dowsed by rain and blessed with sunshine, were ecstatic that their boy had finished fastest of the four Yamaha riders on the 3.67-mile track.
Stoner's best lap in the second of the two 45-minute sessions was 2min 16.66secs – some 12 seconds slower than his time in the drier morning period. But it was the afternoon performance that may provide the most accurate guide to what may happen in tomorrow's 20-lap race, as heavy rain and chilly temperatures are forecast.
Italy's Marco Simoncelli, on a Gresini Honda, was second fastest to Stoner, and the American Nicky Hayden rode his Marlboro Ducati into third place. Crutchlow completed just nine full laps in the afternoon session – but they were sufficient for him to distance himself from Lorenzo's factory Yamaha by 0.574sec.
The American Ben Spies, on the second official Yamaha, was seventh fastest, with Crutchlow's Tech 3 team-mate Colin Edwards 16th fastest and last, although he is riding with a titanium plate and 13 screws inserted in his right shoulder after breaking his collarbone in Spain only a week ago.
"This is the first track time this year that I'm riding on a track where I've raced before," said Crutchlow, who is making his debut in the MotoGP championship. "At the previous rounds I've lost Friday's practice because I've been learning the circuit."
Crutchlow's Tech 3 team runs a satellite operation for the Yamaha factory, and is used to testing and developing new riders, under the tutelage of its experienced owner, the Frenchman Hervé Poncharal. Spies impressed Yamaha when he completed a year with Tech 3 in 2010, and was rewarded with a ride in the full factory squad this year.
So the carrot is being dangled before Crutchlow – and he is responding with some stunning displays. In only his fifth race in MotoGP he finished seventh in Barcelona last week, and will be pondering the possibility of gaining his first podium finish tomorrow.
He may be helped in that ambition by bad weather, as that will negate the advantage that the eight factory machines on the grid will have over his slightly less competitive bike. Wet weather could also help the nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi, who finished ninth fastest yesterday on his Marlboro Ducati. The link with the Italian factory is a new experience for Rossi, who has switched from Yamaha, and he is still seeking his first victory.
Absent from the grid yesterday was the Spaniard Dani Pedrosa, whose championship hopes were dashed when he broke a collarbone in a collision with Simoncelli at Le Mans. Simoncelli, who reveals a Jimi Hendrix-style haircut when he removes his helmet, received a ride-though penalty for his part in the accident, which occurred when he turned across the front of Pedrosa as they battled for second place.
Simoncelli admitted that he should have waited for a better chance to pass. His colleagues on the grid tomorrow will hope that he has learned to temper a little of his aggression, especially if conditions are treacherous at Silverstone.
The Oxfordshire teenager Bradley Smith finished third fastest in practice for the Moto2 support race yesterday, on his Tech 3 Honda.
Meanwhile, runaway Superbike World Championship leader Carlos Checa made an ominous start to the Misano round of the series by topping the first qualifying session at the Rimini circuit yesterday.
British MotoGP practice times (Silverstone) First session:
1 C Stoner (Aus) Repsol Honda 2min15.666sec, 2 M Simoncelli (It) Gresini Honda 2:16.463, 3 N Hayden (US) Ducati 2:17.070, 4 C Crutchlow (GB) Tech 3 Yamaha 2:18.109, 5 J Lorenzo (Sp) Yamaha 2:18.683, 6 A Dovizioso (It) Repsol Honda 2:18.783, 7 B Spies (US) Yamaha 2:18.820, 8 K Abraham (Cz Rep) Ducati 2:19.009, 9 V Rossi (It) Ducati 2:19.435, 10 T Elias (Sp) LCR Honda 2:19.612, 11 A Bautista (Sp) Suzuki 2:20.337, 12 L Capirossi (It) Pramac Ducati 2:20.607.
Championship standings: 1 J Lorenzo 98; 2 C Stoner 91; 3 A Dovizioso 63; 4 D Pedrosa 61; 5 V Rossi 58; 6 N Hayden 47; 7 B Spies 36; 8 H Aoyama 36; 9 M Simoncelli 32; 10 C Crutchlow 30.