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De Puniet opens 2008 with aplomb in Sepang

De Puniet opens 2008 with aplomb in Sepang

The wait finally over, MotoGP returned to action in Sepang today with the opening test of 2008.

The wait finally over, MotoGP returned to action in Sepang today with the opening test of 2008. There were different paint schemes, new machines in various stages of development, and 21 riders keen to resume their preparations for an exhaustive 18 round season.

One participant who made his mark at the November test in Malaysia, clocking impressive times on his satellite LCR Honda machine, Randy de Puniet was once again in sparkling form with the fastest lap of the day. The Frenchman has yet to receive the new engine development used by the factory team, but still had plenty to work with today as he put a new chassis through its paces. A quickest lap of 2'01.377 was nearly half a second faster than his closest rival, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.

Having closed 2007 as the fastest rider in the final post-season test in Jerez, Pedrosa hit the ground running at the humid Malaysian circuit to reassume his position at the business end of the timesheets. The Repsol Honda rider, cutting time off his best race lap from last season in his first Sepang ride on the new RC212V, was consistent upon his return to riding. Pedrosa was one of the riders to miss last November's test at the Asian track, but the only signs of rustiness from the Spaniard were a pair of crashes, the last of which left his bike in a bad condition and the 2007 World Championship runner-up on his way to hospital with a suspected broken hand.

Proudly displaying the number seven plate adopted as a tribute to late mentor Barry Sheene, Chris Vermeulen was another rider following up a positive upturn in fortunes at Sepang. The circuit has been something of a bogey track for Rizla Suzuki, but the 2008 GSV-R seems to have gone some way towards addressing the problems experienced as recently as last October's race. Teammate Loris Capirossi, resplendent in the traditional bright Suzuki blue for the first time at a public test, joined his Australian colleague in the fastest four with both faster than at last year's Sepang test.

MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner was back in the saddle for the first time since a shoulder-damaging crash in Jerez, although both he and Ducati Marlboro teammate Marco Melandri experienced some teething problems with the Desmosedici GP8 upon their return to Sepang. Intermittent laps were the order of the day for the Ducati pairing, with neither reaching double figures before midday. The winner of ten Grands Prix last season, including that of the scene of this week's test, did however manage to turn things around late on in the afternoon to finish fifth on the unofficial timesheets.

Focusing his work on adapting to his new Bridgestone tyres, Valentino Rossi rounded off the top six onboard the latest development of the Yamaha M1 despite a minor crash. The factory rider was just over a tenth of a second faster than former teammate and current Tech 3 satellite rider Colin Edwards, who was riding a hybrid version of the Yamaha machine and suffered a light tumble towards the conclusion of day one.

The rider with the most laps on the board, with an air of inevitability, was 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden. The American went round the Sepang circuit 85 times as he attempted to understand the nuances of the Honda RC212V. The top ten was completed by Fiat Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo -another rider to experience a crash in Sepang- and Gresini Honda's Shinya Nakano.

Kawasaki were out en masse for the opening test of 2008, with test riders Olivier Jacque and Tamaki Serizawa joining the regular pairing of John Hopkins and Anthony West on track. Neither of the four were able to crack the top ten of the timesheets in a measured start to ‘Team Green's 2008, and West also had a fall on his return after wrist surgery.

The second of three days of testing will take place tomorrow, although in the meantime there will be a nervous wait for news on the condition of Pedrosa's hand. Footage from the test is available on

MotoGP Sepang Test

Times Day One

1. DE PUNIET, HONDA LCR - 02'01.377 / 68 laps
2. PEDROSA, REPSOL HRC - 02'01.864 / 47
3. VERMEULEN, RIZLA SUZUKI - 02'02.074 / 57
4. CAPIROSSI, RIZLA SUZUKI - 02'02.416 / 61
5. STONER, DUCATI MARLBORO - 02'02.457 / 36
6. ROSSI, FIAT YAMAHA - 02'02.490 / 44
7. EDWARDS, YAMAHA TECH3 - 02'02.549 / 29
8. HAYDEN, REPSOL HRC - 02'02.558 / 85
9. LORENZO, FIAT YAMAHA - 02'02.563 / 43
10. NAKANO, HONDA GRESINI - 02'02.622 / 63
11. HOPKINS, KAWASAKI RACING - 02'02.628 / 62
12. DOVIZIOSO, JiR TEAM SCOT - 02'02.783 / 52
13. TOSELAND, YAMAHA TECH3 - 02'03.264 / 45
14. DE ANGELIS, HONDA GRESINI - 02'03.301 / 47
15. WEST, KAWASAKI RACING - 02'03.387 / 51
16. JACQUE, KAWASAKI RACING - 02'03.863 / 53
17. ELIAS, ALICE TEAM - 02'03.954 / 55
18. MELANDRI, DUCATI MARLBORO - 02'04.414 / 52
19. CANEPA, DUCATI TEST - 02'05.580 / 48
20. GUINTOLI, ALICE TEAM - 02'06.000 / 36
21. SERIZAWA, KAWASAKI RACING - 02'23.590 / 6

MotoGP, 2008

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