Berlin: MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi, back in action just six weeks after breaking his leg, will start Sunday’s German Grand Prix from fifth place on the grid with Yamaha team mate Jorge Lorenzo on pole.
The 31-year-old Italian needed the help of a crutch to walk to his bike at the Sachsenring circuit but looked immediately competitive once on track, setting the third fastest lap in final practice.
“I am really happy after this second day because I feel confident on the bike,” Rossi said.
“I have suffered more today because we’ve had two sessions instead of one and I have some pain and I’m more tired than yesterday, but I feel good and my movement is okay.
“For tomorrow of course there is a question mark but I hope to be able to finish; I think the podium will be difficult for me but top five would be a very good result,” added the nine-times world champion in all categories.
Lorenzo’s pole was the Spaniard’s fourth in a row and the championship leader did it with his back-up bike after the machine he started on blew its engine and caught fire, laying a trail of oil down the Sachsenring straight.
With flames flickering around his feet, Lorenzo steered the bike over to the wall and clambered off but others were less fortunate.
American Ben Spies and France’s Randy De Puniet both skidded on the oil at speeds in excess of 250kph, their crashes at turn one forcing the session to be red flagged with 25 minutes remaining as marshals cleared up the mess.
De Puniet, grimacing in obvious pain, was taken off the track on a stretcher but hitched a ride back to the LCR Honda garages on a scooter. Later X-rays revealed no break.
While the track was being cleared, Lorenzo went to see De Puniet to make sure he was alright.
Rossi, who had originally been told he could expect to be out for up to five months after the accident at his home Italian Grand Prix, avoided the mayhem to line up on the second row to the delight of his flag-waving fans.
Lorenzo secured the top slot with a best lap of one minute 21.817 seconds at the Sachsenring, with Australian Casey Stoner second in 1:21.841 and Spaniard Dani Pedrosa third for Honda.
Lorenzo has won the last three races, and five out of seven, and is 52 points clear of Pedrosa. Rossi has fallen to seventh overall after missing four races.
Retired 1993 world champion Kevin Schwantz told British Eurosport television that he had advised Rossi to go easy but doubted that he would.
“I said ‘Maybe this weekend here at Sachsenring because it is so physical maybe just go a little tranquillo,’” he said. “And he looked at me with somewhat of a smirk on his face and said ‘Maybe’.
“He obviously feels really good, they’ve done a great job getting that bone lined up and putting the pin in it. But it is a young enough break that if he fell again it could easily do some worse damage to it,” added the Texan.
“Watching him ride the first section of the weekend, he looks even smoother than he normally looks. So I don’t think he’s out there really pushing the envelope, this is just a track he has always kind of liked.”