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Rain blots action as Rossi takes control

Rain blots action as Rossi takes control

Rain blots action as Rossi takes control

The grey clouds which have hovered menacingly over the Suzuka Circuit for much of this week finally gave way at the most inopportune moment today, with intermittent rain showers blighting the first qualifying practices for all three classes at the SKYY Vodka Grand Prix of Japan. Despite slightly damp conditions at the start of the MotoGP session the riders eagerly took to the track, but were forced into the pits by a brief but heavy downpour on the half hour mark with Valentino Rossi heading the time sheets. The World Champion remained unmoved in provisional pole position as only a handful of riders returned to the slippery circuit to test varying settings for what promises to be a typically unpredictable meteorological weekend at the Japanese venue.

Meanwhile, Max Biaggi showed glimpses in the first half of the session that the Suzuka Circuit could once again prove talismanic, as he looks to repeat a famous victory here in 1998 when making his premier-class debut with the Japanese factory. The Italian, now riding the RC211V with which Rossi won the title last year, was second fastest behind his arch rival. Biaggi's team-mate Tohru Ukawa was third quickest, whilst Carlos Checa did his best to raise spirits in the Yamaha camp with the fourth fastest time of the day and the final slot on the provisional front row.

Makoto Tamada put in an impressive performance aboard the Bridgestone-shod Honda, qualifying fifth fastest to lead a provisional second row which also includes fellow RC211V rider Sete Gibernau, Suzuki's Kenny Roberts and Alex Barros on the Yamaha. Colin Edwards, who like Barros has extensive knowledge of the Suzuka track having previously won the 8 hour endurance race, was making swift progress on the Aprilia and qualified at the head of the third row in ninth place.

Other than the injured Marco Melandri, the only man not able to set a qualifying time before the downpour was Jeremy McWilliams, who suffered mechanical problems with the only remaining two-stroke on the grid, the Proton KR3. The British rider now faces an anxious wait to see what the weather holds tomorrow.

MotoGP, 2003, SKYY VODKA Grand Prix of Japan

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