Rossi sets hot pace

By Robert Grant

WHILE world motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi pre- pared for his customary pole position, MotoGP debutant Chris Vermeulen experienced a glimpse of his destiny yester- day. Rossi was quickest in prac- tice for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix as stars Loris Capi- rossi and Kenny Roberts crashed out and will miss Sun- day's race, while Vermeulen tried to stay in the mix. The 23-year-old, who is des- perate to move to MotoGP next year, is riding for the Camel Honda team in place of injured compatriot Troy Bayliss. And he adapted quickly to the sophisticated lightweight, power-packed machine, al- though he quickly tempered his initial enthusiasm. "It surprised me how easy it was to ride - it's easy to ride but difficult to go very fast on one," Vermeulen said. He also struggled to sum up his performance but believed he could improve his times over the qualifying sessions to- day. "It's hard to say," Vermeu- len said. "I'm trying quite hard out there but I'm trying to be smooth as well and just try to take as much in, give good in- formation to the team and try to make the bike better. "We improved one second from this morning to this afternoon - if we did that ev- ery session we'd be quickest by Sunday. "I don't expect that to hap- pen but I hope to improve all

the time and that's the goal." He said he needed to work on improving his entry speed into corners and adjusting to the bike's carbon brakes, but found the power range differ- ent to the superbike on which he finished second in the world championship to compa- triot Troy Corser. "The delivery is very differ-

ent and I found in the straight it just keeps going," Vermeulen said. "The superbike is probably much more aggressive in the lower gears because we have the same horsepower all the way but there's no engine management system. "With these you've got pow- er earlier and you've got an- other 3000 rpm on what we use

in the superbike." Speculation is rife that Ver- meulen will move to MotoGP racing, but he may be forced to wait another year. "I would like to come to this paddock, I've said that to Honda but it's difficult, there's only so many positions," he said. Rossi set the fastest time of one minute 30.349 seconds on

his 28th and final lap in the second free practice session, ahead of Carlos Checa and Nicky Hayden. Former world champion Roberts broke his left wrist in a crash during the opening practice session. Capirossi suffered internal bruising in his fall. Both will miss Sunday's MooGP race. -AAP

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