Stoner leads the way in Jerez

Championship leader Casey Stoner started his weekend in perfect style by setting the pace in opening MotoGP practice ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.

In near perfect conditions, 22C air temperature and clear skies, Stoner outpaced his teammate Dani Pedrosa by the slimmest of margins as the Repsol Honda riders enjoyed a comfortable advantage over their rivals.

Stoner had a typical morning session with the Australian straight down to business on his opening lap and setting the pace for much of the session. The former world champion is in superb form and he looks primed and ready to continue his Qatar domination into the second race of the year.

Pedrosa once again looks likely to be his toughest competition and the Spanish star had a solid morning with consistent 1m40s laps but could only manage one 1m39s lap, as opposed to Stoner’s three tours. Pedrosa struggled for pace in the third sector, leading into the stadium section, and it is here that Dani will need to find pace in the afternoon session if he is to challenge Stoner this weekend.

Valentino Rossi ended the morning third fastest, just 0.5s adrift of Stoner, and the Italian looked much more confident aboard his Ducati. Encouragingly for Rossi he got faster as the session wore on and set a series of good laptimes. He clearly does not have the performance of the Hondas yet but this was a solid start to his weekend and he looks much more competitive at Jerez.

Marco Simoncelli surprised everyone with his testing pace and his fifth place finish in Qatar did a lot to silence any remaining doubters. The Italian, returning to the scene of his first ever Grand Prix victory, set the fourth fastest time and could challenge for the first premier class podium of his career this weekend.

To do so he will need to outpace Jorge Lorenzo. The champion had a poor session, setting the fifth fastest time, but was clearly concentrating on race pace as indicated by his long 13 lap opening stint that yielded his fastest time on the final tour. Lorenzo was as consistent as ever and lapped in the 1m40s range throughout the morning.

Andrea Dovizioso was the final runner within one second of Stoner but the Italian struggled for pace and crashed at the end of the session. He walked away without any trouble but it was clear to see that he is feeling the pressure from HRC to outperform Simoncelli. Dovizioso, fourth in the opening race of the year, lapped consistently in the 1m41s bracket for much of the session before finding improved pace on his final stint.

Ben Spies had a disappointing morning, 0.5s slower than Lorenzo, and could barely outpace the satellite Yamaha of Colin Edwards with Randy de Puniet also in close company ahead of Nicky Hayden.

Karel Abraham was very impressive in setting the 11th fastest time, comfortably ahead of fellow Ducati rider Hector Barbera. Abraham has come on leaps and bounds since being announced as a MotoGP rider and the Czech Republic native could spring a surprise this weekend.

Toni Elias had a miserable time in Qatar but the Moto2 champion was off the bottom of the timesheets this morning and looked much more comfortable in his return to MotoGP machinery.

For full results of FP1 click here

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