Exactly one week after dominating the pre-season test times at Sepang, Ducati Marlboro riders Sete Gibernau and Loris Capirossi repeated the feat by locking down the top two overall positions at the end of the three-day Phillip Island test - but Honda's Marco Melandri was fastest on race tyres.
After yesterday's rain, the Honda, Ducati and Kawasaki teams were delighted to find dry weather return on Thursday, allowing uninterrupted running around the challenging seaside circuit. The previous wet weather had taken its toll however, with the track described as offering lower grip than usual.
New Desmosedici rider Gibernau eventually set the overall pace courtesy of a 1min 30.06secs circulation, set with qualifying tyres. That lap was still over 0.65secs from Nicky Hayden's Repsol Honda pole time at last October's Australian Grand Prix, but was enough to keep Gibernau 0.19secs ahead of team-mate Loris Capirossi's qualifying run. Shinya Nakano's Bridgestone shod Kawasaki was third with a 1min 30.59secs...
But fastest of all on race rubber was Fortuna Honda rider Melandri, with a lap of 1min 30.60secs - around 0.27secs slower than his own race lap record at the GP. Hayden was next best on race tyres with a 1min 30.90secs, while Gibernau's lapped just 0.02secs slower than the #69, with Capirossi fourth on a 1min 31.07secs.
Melandri set his best time during a massive 133 Thursday laps - and didn't even stop for lunch. The young Italian is chasing a base setting that he can work with at any circuit, tactics that served him well in 2005 on his way to runner up position in the world championship.
"We had such a lot of work to and we didn't stop all day. Most of the time testing race tyres, Michelin didn't have any qualifying tyres to test," stated Marco. "I didn't make a race simulation with tyres but we did a few long runs. We continued working in the direction we found on the first day of the test and the bike worked well. Basically we are still working on a base set up that will be good for all tracks but we still have more to do on front end."
Meanwhile, the Ducati performance again underlines the potential of the new Bridgestone shod GP6, which was always expected to perform well at Sepang - where Capirossi took pole and victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix - but was slightly more of an unknown quantity at Phillip Island (Capirossi having missed the race due to injury, while team-mate Carlos Checa took a podium finish).