Valentino Rossi, the MotoGP world champion, saw his homework pay off as he secured provisional pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix on his Repsol Honda yesterday.
The 24-year-old Italian finished the qualifying practice session at the Assen circuit with a fastest time of 2min 0.496 sec, which was set on his final lap.
Rossi's compatriot and arch-rival Max Biaggi finished 0.181sec behind for second place on the provisional grid. And Italy's dominance of the opening proceedings was completed by Loris Capirossi who took the Marlboro Ducati to the session's third-fastest time, two weeks after registering the manufacturer's maiden MotoGP victory in Catalunya, where Rossi had been beaten into second place.
That setback had prompted Rossi, who leads the 2003 Championship by 47 points, into tweaking his bike set-up as he experimented with new tyres, suspension and exhaust components and seems to be reaping the benefits here.
"We made some tests after the race in Barcelona with some new Michelins, plus we've also tested some new suspension parts and exhaust pipes," Rossi said.
"The results were good and I always like to race at Assen because the track suits my style. The team has been working very hard and we now have a better package but the competition is also stronger.
"I'm happy with the position in the championship and I think we're in good shape."
The Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams, riding the Proton KR, finished the session in a lowly 20th position but at least enjoyed a more profitable afternoon than his team-mate, Nobuatso Aoki, whose exhaust caught fire as he crossed the start-finish line on his sixth lap.
A similar fate befell the British Superbike rider Yukio Kagayama, appearing for the factory Suzuki side as a replacement for the injured Kenny Roberts, although he did end the day 17th fastest.
Chaz Davies, the 16-year-old competing in the 250cc series, finished 23rd from 29 while Leon Camier, Britain's interest in the 125cc category, finished 32 from 37 riders in first qualifying practice aboard the Megasystem Racing Service Honda.