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Gibernau sets dry pace as weather turns at Sepang

Gibernau sets dry pace as weather turns at Sepang

Gibernau sets dry pace as weather turns at Sepang

Sete Gibernau topped the time sheets on the opening day of free practice for the Marlboro Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix with a fastest lap just 0.046 seconds outside Valentino Rossi's current circuit record. The Honda rider cut through 33% humidity in the morning session to record a time of 2'03.299, holding off the challenge of his former Suzuki team-mate Kenny Roberts and Ducati's Loris Capirossi. Local weather forecasts predicting intermittent rain for the majority of this weekend proved to be disturbingly accurate in the afternoon as the grey clouds hanging over Kuala Lumpur briefly gave way before the start of the second session, meaning none of the riders were able to improve on the Spaniard's best time.

"We started off by basing our work on the information we gathered here in the preseason, which was a big help," said Gibernau. "We haven't made too many changes and the problems we have had with the front end at other circuits haven't been too bad here. It was a shame that the afternoon session was wet because we weren't able to continue with the set-up of the bike. The wet is no use to anybody so hopefully we can have some dry weather tomorrow to try and prepare for the race."

Gibernau's team-mate Marco Melandri made a surprise return to action just five days after undergoing surgery on the foot injury he sustained in a collision with Valentino Rossi at Motegi. Melandri has spent the week in a wheelchair but was bravely back on a motorcycle today, setting the fourteenth quickest time despite heavy stitching in his foot. Rossi was ten places above his compatriot with a lap time just 0.186 seconds short of Gibernau as he launches his second attempt to seal the MotoGP World Championship, with a top four finish the minimum requirement for the Italian.

Whilst Melandri looked certain to miss out on this round after the last race in Japan, Shane Byrne and Olivier Jacque were probably even more grateful to be involved here as they replaced injury victims Troy Bayliss and Alex Hofmann respectively. Byrne lapped 18th fastest in his first ever session aboard the Honda RC211V whilst Jacque, making only his third appearance of the season for Kawasaki, was two places higher up the order in 16th.

After demonstrating his dry pace in the morning session Roberts proved to be equally adept in the greasy conditions during the afternoon as he dominated the second session. The track did begin to dry midway through but was still extremely slippery in places and Roberts was unable to get within twelve seconds of Gibernau's morning effort, clocking a best time of 2'15.954. Shinya Nakano almost dislodged the American in the dying seconds but his flying lap faltered in the final section. Despite Michelin's dominance of this circuit in past seasons, the performance of Roberts, Capirossi and Nakano today suggests that rival tyre manufacturers Bridgestone could again be a force to be reckoned with after taking their first win of the season in Japan with Capirossi last Sunday.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2005, MARLBORO MALAYSIAN MOTORCYCLE GRAND PRIX, FP2

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