First practice for Sunday’s 2015 Pramac Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island confirmed a lot of suspicions.
The four biggest names in the sport – Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa – filled the top four spots in a 45-minute MotoGP session cut short by around four minutes when rain began falling over the 4.448-km Bass Strait circuit.
But right behind the quick quartet was Aussie Jack Miller, having his first MotoGP outing in his home race, and confirming his forecast that the track might be more forgiving to his Open class LCR Honda than some of the tighter layouts he has struggled on so far.
“Pretty happy with the morning,” said the Townsville 20-year-old after finishing just 0.665 of a second slower than Lorenzo. “Of course we can improve a little bit – I haven’t got it quite perfect yet.”
Miller spent most of the session trying to develop some rear grip on a cool track – the ambient temperature was only in the mid-teens – and is hoping to enjoy better weather as the weekend goes on.
“I would rather it be dry,” he added. “Riding this thing around here is awesome and I’d prefer to do it in the dry.”
Lorenzo’s best lap was a 1:30.047, around three-tenths slower than Aleix Espargaro’s session-topping time on a Yamaha in 2014.
The two Aussies riding as substitutes this weekend were less prominent than their compatriot. Ant West, the 234-race veteran riding the AB Motoracing Honda in place of Karel Abraham, was 24th on 1:33.790 while Damian Cudlin, standing in for the seriously injured Alex de Angelis at E-motion Ioda, put his ART into 25th and last spot on 1:36.091.
Moto2: Lowes hits the heights
In the Kalex-dominated intermediate class, British rider Sam Lowes slid his Speed Up spectacularly to top spot with a best time of 1:33.658, just under a quarter of a second clear of nearest pursuer Takaaki Nakagami on the Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex.
Lowes did the job in the first part of a session that was briefly interrupted by rain, he and the Japanese rider being the only ones to get below the 1:34 barrier.
Outgoing world champion Tito Rabat gave it a go despite his broken right forearm but struggled to 21st on his EG 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex with a best lap of 1:36.192. Meanwhile the man who will inherit his crown, Johann Zarco, finished seventh in the session on the Ajo Motorsport Kalex, 0.852 of a second off the front-running pace.
With Zarco out of reach, the battle for second place is still keen – and if Rabat is unable to ride at full throttle, Alex Rins could well overhaul him on the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 Kalex. Rins, putting together a brilliant rookie year in Moto2, is only 17 points adrift of his compatriot and was fifth-quickest behind Jonas Folger and Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, also on Kalex bikes.
Australian Josh Hook, standing in for the injured Dominique Aegerter on the Technomag/Interwetten Kalex, ended the session in 25th place on 1:36.410.
“Bloody windy!” was how the Taree rider described the cool conditions. “It’s hard to keep the front down, keep weight on it and get the bike to turn. It’s not easy – the guys are going fast out there!”
Moto3: Oliveira takes flight
In Moto 3, Portuguese flyer Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), a podium finisher in the last three rounds, set the fastest time in the opening practice session, just ahead of world championship leader Danny Kent (Leopard Racing Honda).
Kent leads the title by 56pts with three rounds remaining, with Oliveira one of only two riders —the other is Italian Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda) — who can prevent him becoming the first British rider since the late Barry Sheene in 1977 to win a world GP championship.
There are multiple scenarios which might see Kent become world champion at Phillip Island, and the most emphatic from the 21-year-old's point of view would be finishing either first or second in Sunday's 23-lap race.
With his early form in FP1 Kent is moving in that direction, while Bastianini, second place in the standings, was well back as he completed the 40-minute session in 18th position, one spot behind Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra).
Oliveira's best lap in FP1 was 1:37.209, with Kent (1:37.419) and class stalwart Efren Vazquez (Leopard Racing Honda, 1:37.876) also joining him in the 37-second bracket.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo, 1:38.091), Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM, 1:38.148) and Isaac Vinales (RBA Racing Team KTM, 1:38.188) completed the top six. Vinales did crash in the session though, at turn two, while last-start winner at Motegi, Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda), fell at turn one. Both were unhurt.
Australia's two wildcards, Olly Simpson (KTM) and Matt Barton (Suus Honda), filled the last two spots in the 35-rider pack, the former struggling with front-end chatter while Barton only completed a handful of laps after ECU issues.
For full results, click on the links below: