Motorcycling: Roberts' lap puts Doohan in shade

KENNY ROBERTS Jnr followed his season-opening win in Malaysia last weekend with the fastest time in yesterday's first qualifying session for the Japanese 500cc Grand Prix.

With rain forecast for today, when the final qualifying takes place, Roberts' fastest lap of 1:50.826 could prove good enough to put his Suzuki on pole position for tomorrow's race at the new Motegi twin-ring track.

"I really wanted to get a time in that would be good enough for the front row," the American said. "As soon as I did this lap time I felt that was OK and after that I went into race instead of qualifying mode and started to work on testing different things."

Michael Doohan, the defending champion, was second quickest on a HRC Honda in 1:51.153 while Spain's Carlos Checa, on a Yamaha, was third and John Kocinski fourth fastest, also on a Honda.

Roberts, the eldest son of the three-times 500cc champion Kenny Roberts, surprised some last weekend when he took Suzuki's first 500c win in four years, relegating Doohan, Australia's five-times champion, to fourth place.

However, the 25-year-old, who switched to a rejuvenated Suzuki team after last season on his father's Modenas, had impressed in winter testing and again looked a cut above the rest yesterday with the only time below 1:51.00 on the 4.8-kilometre track.