Rossi absence takes the gloss off Honda testing

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The Independent Online

Honda's first day of winter testing in Malaysia was marred by bad weather and the absence of the world champion Valentino Rossi.

The London-based Italian pulled out of the Sepang tests after failing to agree a contract to race the four-stroke RC211V in this year's MotoGP championship. Honda are confident of coming to terms with Rossi and sent the remainder of their contracted racers and test riders to Sepang to try out modifications to the machine and new tyres from Michelin.

Despite the rain, Japan's Tohru Ukawa recorded the fastest lap of the day with a time of 2min 6.6sec, close to the circuit record. The test rider Shinichi Itoh, making his first visit to Sepang, also tested the RC211V and set a best time of 2:08.86.

The reigning 250cc world champion Daijiro Katoh, of the Honda Gresini team, tested the two-stroke NSR500 and before the rain fell set a best time of 2:07.84. But the Dutchman Jurgen van den Goorbergh did not fare well on his team Kanemoto NSR500, crashing the machine.

Although van den Goorbergh was not injured, the bike was extensively damaged and he was forced to sit out the remainder of the test session.

Team West Honda Pons made their first appearance of the season with the 2002 NSR500s they will race in MotoGP this season, the Italian Loris Capirossi setting a best of 2:07.93 and Brazilian Alex Barros posting a time of 2:08.86.