Team Proton KR rider Jeremy McWilliams switched back to last year's two-stroke machine for this afternoon's first timed practice session at Estoril, and proved the strength of the 500cc triple once again by putting it eighth - among the fastest of the 990cc four-strokes.

McWilliams was using the same drilled fairing he used to claim pole position at Phillip Island last year - the holes a measure to alleviate the effect of crosswinds, which were a feature of today's practice.

"This is what keeps me coming back - days when we have a bit of a downer, then pull the old two-stroke out and manage the second row," he smiled.

However, the Ulsterman's two-stroke switch was only temporary, and both he and team-mate Nobuatsu Aoki will be on the four-stroke tomorrow - something many find mystifying: why not race the quickest bike available?

The team claim they need development time for the V5, but even paddock insiders are beginning to question the decision to sacrifice immediate GP performance for long term gain - why not, as in Formula One, conduct a rigorous test programme away from race weekends to get the bike up to speed, then introduce it when it's clearly the quicker option?

Even McWilliams admits the decision to return to the V5 will be hard...

"It's difficult to know what to do tomorrow, but I will go with whatever the team wants, which will be to get some more laps on the four-stroke," he stated. "That's okay by me. The four-stroke is going better than it has ever gone, and it's a lot easier to ride into the turns. It's starting to feel like a racing bike. And at least we have that old relic two-stroke to pull out if things go wrong."

This morning, one of McWilliams's V5 engines gave trouble in the morning free session, and the team decided to withdraw the other bike for the afternoon, to make internal modifications to prevent the problem recurring.

"Tomorrow we will have four four-strokes again, and the plan is for Jeremy to go back to the four-stroke," confirmed team manger Chuck Aksland. "The bike is better than before, and he was going quite well on it in the morning free practice before he had engine trouble. If possible, we will race the four-stroke. We're still testing the new machine, and full race distance is an important part of that process."

Nobuatsu Aoki stuck to the four-stroke, and the team overcame a few teething troubles during the session, with throttle problems spoiling planned progress with chassis settings.

Like McWilliams, Aoki has one version of the latest chassis, and the niggling problems were a minor set-back against an overall improvement in machine feel and rider confidence.

"I have a new chassis here that has brought me more confidence, because the balance is much nicer. I like it very much," he enthused. "The problem is there is only one, and I had some trouble with the engine, with a throttle butterfly sticking. That cost us time we wanted to use for chassis setting, and we are a little behind schedule. The engine power was also a little down this afternoon. I need my engine to run properly, and then I know I can get a much better time."

 

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