2006 Australian MotoGP
Were we happy or what?
16 races and exactly one year after making his MotoGP debut at Phillip Island, home hero Chris Vermeulen stepped onto a grand prix podium for the very first time with a brilliant second place in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. More...
Day 1 Wrap - Randy Takes French Leave
Quick Kawasakis catch the eye in MotoGP practice... Casey and Chris have ground to make up... Kallio makes up for lost time... and Lorenzo leaves them behind
While America, Italy and Spain lead the 2006 title chase in MotoGP, it was a Franco-Japanese alliance that fired the opening shots in the 2006 GMC Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island on Friday.
On a brilliant first day, MotoGP rookie Randy de Puniet found fine late-season form on his Kawasaki to beat off a determined assault by Italian Loris Capirossi on the Ducati with a stunning final lap.
De Puniet, 25, led the way in the second free practice session, bolted on a qualifying tyre with seconds to go and reclaimed the top spot which Capirossi - also on qualifying rubber - had just stolen from him.
"The bike was OK - and me too!" grinned De Puniet, who is only 16th in the standings but has begun to find his feet in the second half of his maiden year.
Both riders saw their team-mates, Shinya Nakano and Sete Gibernau, follow them into the top four, split by the Honda of American title leader Nicky Hayden.
World Champion Valentino Rossi's Yamaha had a low-key day, finishing sixth in the second session, while the man lying second in the Championship, Dani Pedrosa, visibly struggled for pace on his Honda as he fights to recover from the leg injuries he sustained in Malaysia less than a week ago.
Aussie duo Casey Stoner (Honda) and Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) were 6th and 14th respectively on the day as they fought to master the 4.448-km Island circuit on the big machines.
Stoner complained of having too many tyres to test without finding a solution.
"It's a great feeling to be back at the Island," he said, "but I'm just trying to concentrate on what I'm doing out on the track."
The MotoGP men have their one-off qualifying shoot-out on Saturday afternoon, but the pattern has already been set for the pole position battle in the other two World Championship categories.
In the quarter-litre class it's Spain's Jorge Lorenzo who leads the way, as he does in the title fight, though France had her flag-bearer there too as Sylvain Guintoli set some scorching times on his Aprilia.
Runaway title leader Alvaro Bautista didn't have it all his own way in the 125 category as Mika Kallio fought back from a wasted morning to claim provisional pole.
"That was unbelievable," enthused Kallio, last year's title runner-up who has fought a lone hand for KTM against the all-powerful Aspar Aprilia team this season. "I thought it must be a mistake, but I felt very good all the time and we set many good laps."
Bautista was fourth, while last year's Island pole-sitter and race-winner Thomas Luthi, the outgoing World Champion, found some real pace to be second on the day.
Aussie teen star Blake Leigh-Smith went a second and a half faster than he had ever been at the Island as soon as he climbed aboard the KTM Junior Team bike in place of the injured Stefan Bradl.
The Gold Coast 16-year-old finished the day 34th but did enough to suggest the team has chosen well by giving him a race seat for the last four rounds of the season.
As usual the supporting cast produced some on-track fireworks.
In the Glen Cameron Group Aussie 125s, Island veteran Peter Galvin again showed the way with a first race win from pole.
"What a way to start the event," said four-time national champion Galvin. "After winning all three races last year I now want to go for a clean sweep again."
But it was the last race of the day, the second in the Denso Supersports series, that brought Friday to a fantastic climax.
Mark Aitchison just caught Jamie Stauffer on the line in a thrilling all-Yamaha finish to a race cut to six laps after a rear-of-grid pile-up at the first start.
New South Welshman Aitchison finally put an end to an eight-race support class winning streak for Stauffer, who had earlier won the first Denso Supersports race then hopped on to his YZF-R1 to take out the first 8-lapper in the Australian Superbikes.
If last year’s Australian MotoGP was close, this one is set to be an absolute thriller. All your favourite riders will be back, including 2005’s winner of eleven races, Valentino Rossi. But with the champ dropping several early races in ’06, challengers will be coming hard and fast.
Riders to watch include strong starters Melandri, Capirossi and Pedrosa, as well as local boys Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen who will have their sights on a home town podium.
And make sure you don’t miss your last chance to witness the brilliance of the 990cc engines racing in this class before a cap of 800cc is imposed on the next year’s Championship.
No excuses fellow Bike Nut's, be there or be square, Phillip Island, you know where. I'll be giving away prizes, so look out for me in the BikeNut t-shirt...
History of the AMGP
Hard on the heels of Wayne Gardner's 500cc World Championship success in 1987, Australia joined the elite group of Grand Prix nations.
Originally opened in 1956, taken over by Len Lukey in 1962, the Phillip Island circuit had fallen into disrepair before Bob Barnard and his engineering team got to it in 1988.
Three million dollars and a lot of hard work later, the 4.45-kilometre Grand Prix Circuit staged the second round of the 1989 World Championship.
The Event returned to PhillipIsland in 1990, but moved north to Sydney’s Eastern Creek from 1991-96. It returned to the acknowledged home of Australian motorcycle racing in 1997 and has since become a firm rider favourite.