The reigning world champion, Casey Stoner, missed the final seven minutes of practice at the German MotoGP yesterday after crashing his Marlboro Ducati. However, he still finished the session nearly half a second faster than any other rider on the 2.28-mile track.
Pushing his 800cc V4 machine to the limit on the Sachsenring circuit, Stoner lost the front end on a downhill right-hander and slid far down the slope. But the 22-year-old Australian, who was reared on a regime of dirt-track racing as a child, was able to laugh with his technicians back in the pit box as none of his rivals were able to close the gap on him.
Stoner's lap of 1 minute 21.582 seconds slashed a quarter of a second from Dani Pedrosa's 2006 pole-position record – set when MotoGP bikes were allowed 990cc – and was 0.411sec better than Alex de Angelis, on a Honda.
The Texan Colin Edwards was third fastest, on a Tech 3 Yamaha, but the former champion Valentino Rossi had no answer to Stoner and finished an ominous 1.214sec slower, in fourth place, on his Fiat Yamaha.
Ducati have smoothed out the handling and power delivery of their Desmosedici GP8 motorcycle after problems earlier in the year and Stoner is now looking for a third consecutive race win. He holds third place in the championship table, 29 points behind the leader, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), and 25 behind Rossi, but he is closing the gap quickly as he and his fire-red Ducati sprint away from rivals in practice, qualifying and races.
It was tough day for Britain's James Toseland, who ended it day last of the 17 MotoGP riders, 2.282sec slower than Stoner. In the morning Toseland chucked his Tech 3 Yamaha into the gravel on only his third lap of a track upon which he had not previously raced.
He quickly rejoined the session and racked up a total of 25 laps as he learnt the Sachsenring's 14 turns, but in the afternoon he laboured for nearly 30 laps to pare only six tenths of a second from his morning best.
"It's a really technical track on throttle control," he said. "I needed to do all those laps to learn it. Now we'll need to work hard tomorrow to get up the grid, because it's almost impossible to pass here."
The 17-year-old Oxfordshire rider Bradley Smith provisionally booked a front-row slot for tomorrow's 125cc race when he finished second fastest in provisional qualifying on his Polaris World Aprilia.