Motorcycling: Stoner keeps up pressure as Rossi lacks raw speed

Casey Stoner, the surprise winner of the opening MotoGP round in Qatar two weeks ago, yesterday maintained the pressure on Italy's Valentino Rossi, leadinghim in practice here for tomorrow's second round.

The 21-year-old Australian finished fourth fastest on his Marlboro Ducati, with Rossi in sixth. Stoner again demonstrated Ducati's power advantage over Rossi's Fiat Yamaha, breezing down the straight at 172.7mph, a significant 3.2mph faster his rival.

The Spaniards Carlos Checa (LCR Honda) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) delighted their home fans by finishing first and second fastest.

Stoner's maiden victory in MotoGP came on a track where his bike touched 201.64mph, almost 10mph quicker than Rossi's best. Jerez is a slower and more sinuous venue than Qatar, and demands balance and front-end grip from the 800cc MotoGP bikes. But if Ducati's riders, Stoner and Loris Capirossi, can out-perform the Yamahas here, it will put tremendous pressure on Rossi as four of the next five rounds will be held on tracks with long power-sapping straights.

"Yes, I'm worried," Rossi admitted. "I hope to test new parts here on Monday. So far our bike is only at 80 to 90 per cent of its potential."

Stoner threatened that Ducati's all-powerful V4 GP7 motorcycle will get even better. "We are trying to make the power delivery smoother, and that will make it easier on the tyres and easier to ride," he said. "We don't need to make the engine any faster, just more controllable."

Kenny Roberts Jnr's British-based Team KR212V finished fifth fastest, 0.331sec behind Checa.

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