Thunder strikes on first day of MotoGP action in France

The adverse weather conditions that have followed the MotoGP World Championship for the past two rounds of the season continued today at the Grand Prix Alice de France, where afternoon thunderstorms interrupted the second free practice for the MotoGP class and turned the 250cc first qualifying session into a virtual flood. Alex Barros set the fastest time of the day just moments before the heavy grey clouds hanging over the Le Mans circuit finally burst, clocking a time of 1'34.171 to top the time sheets overnight ahead of Honda colleagues Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi.

"The weather conditions were really strange today, constantly changing," said Barros. "We found a reasonable base setting in the dry, but once the track had been dampened, I also felt at ease in the wet, and I was able to lap well. The asphalt wasn't totally wet, but I wanted to get an idea of the grip levels it offered with wet tyres. Now our only hope is that the weather decides one way or the other."

Whilst the rain quickly subsided and allowed the riders to return to the track, it proved impossible for them to improve their times any further and left them with the simple task of preparing their machines in readiness for more rain forecast for the rest of the weekend. Colin Edwards was unable to better his fastest lap from the morning session, when he topped the time sheets from Gibernau, and dropped to fourth fastest overall ahead of his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi, who also failed to improved from the morning to the afternoon.

The biggest mover on the time sheets in the limited dry track time in the afternoon was Honda rider Marco Melandri, who knocked over a second off his best lap from the morning to move up to seventh fastest behind Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano. John Hopkins was eighth quickest on the Suzuki whilst Ducati rider Carlos Checa and Honda's Nicky Hayden completed the top ten. Local favourite Olivier Jacque, making his second appearance for Kawasaki as a replacement for the injured Alex Hofmann, was fifteenth fastest.

Makoto Tamada did not take part in the afternoon session after suffering extensive pain in his injured wrist on his return to action this morning. The Japanese rider missed the last round in China because of the injury and will again be replaced by Dutch rider Jurgen Vd Goorbergh. "I'm very sad that I am not able to compete here, but when the pain is too much there is nothing you can do," explained Tamada. "Now I want to concentrate on the rehabilitation of my right hand because I want to be ready for the next round of the season at Mugello in three weeks' time."

Anthony West made a sensational return to Grand Prix action with provisional pole position for the 250cc race after responding to a late call from Aprilia Germany to replace injured Colombian rider Martín Cardenas on Wednesday night. The Australian is contracted to KTM and hopes to ride the Austrian factory's brand new quarter-litre machine for the first time at the next round in Italy but was given permission to ride the Aprilia by his team as he looks to recover his race sharpness. West showed that he had lost none of his edge as he charged to top spot through torrentially wet conditions, with the majority of riders deciding not to complete a single lap of the sodden circuit. Only four of the riders who took to the track were within the mandatory 107% limit of West's lap, with local riders Arnaud Vincent and Hugo Marchand qualifying ahead of Alex de Angelis and Alex Debon. Reigning World Champion Dani Pedrosa, current series leader Andrea Dovizioso and the winner of the last two rounds, Casey Stoner, were among the riders who chose not to take part.

The first qualifying session for the 125cc class had earlier taken place in dry conditions, with Mika Kallio again demonstrating his authority. The series leader clinched provisional pole position with a time of 1'43.693 and is joined on the front row by Marco Simoncelli, Gabor Talmacsi and Héctor Faubel. Meanwhile Mattia Pasini, winner of the last round in China, looks certain to miss the rest of the weekend's action after crashing and breaking his wrist.

Photo: KTR Media

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