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Gibernau sets the pace on enemy territory

Gibernau sets the pace on enemy territory

Gibernau sets the pace on enemy territory

Sete Gibernau braved the wrath of the passionate home supporters at Mugello this afternoon with the fastest lap on the opening day of free practice at the Gran Premio Alice d'Italia. In searing afternoon temperatures the Spaniard lapped almost half a second inside his own circuit record, clocking a best time of 1'50.662 despite a technical problem at the end of the session to dislodge Valentino Rossi from the top of the time sheets after the local hero had dominated the morning practice.

"On my last run the pit-lane speed limiter got stuck so I did the whole lap at 80km/h," explained Gibernau. "I went back into the box and they saw what it was straight away but there wasn't enough time to go back out for a fast lap. The rhythm we set today wasn't bad but I'm hopeful of improving it tomorrow if the weather stays good. We also have to choose which tyre we're going to use, which will be very important for the race."

Whilst Rossi was unable to improve on his morning time as the summer sunshine scorched the Mugello asphalt in the afternoon, the only other rider to move above him on the day's combined time sheets was his fellow Italian Max Biaggi. The Honda rider's best effort fell just 0.018 seconds short of factory colleague Gibernau and provides his army of fans, banked as always in the hillside above the Casanova and Savelli corners, with plenty of reason for optimism as he guns for his first premier-class victory at this circuit on Sunday.

Carlos Checa may be Spanish but he is also counting on huge backing this weekend as a grandstand of 3,000 Ducati fans at the Correntaio corner lend their support to himself and his team-mate Loris Capirossi. The pair warmed up with the fourth and fifth fastest times today after both leading the session for brief spells.

Alex Barros, the only rider to finish a race ahead of Rossi so far this season, shook off the effects of a back injury sustained in a crash at Le Mans three weeks ago to clock the sixth fastest time as he looks to repeat his victory here from 2001. Nicky Hayden was unable to improve his time this afternoon after lapping fourth fastest in the morning, dropping to seventh overall ahead of Marco Melandri, who escaped unhurt from a crash in the second session.

Makoto Tamada and Alex Hofmann both made a successful return to action today after missing the last three rounds with wrist injuries, completing 22 and 36 laps respectively and clocking the 11th and 15th fastest times. David Checa, riding as a replacement for the injured Toni Elías, made an impressive MotoGP debut with the 17th fastest time – just over a second behind his temporary Yamaha team-mate Ruben Xaus – despite also crashing after just three laps in the afternoon.


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