Brilliant sunshine greeted Honda, Ducati, Aprilia and Proton KR riders on Thursday morning for the second of three-days testing at Valencia, where Max Biaggi put his Camel Pramac Pons Honda on top of the times - comfortably beating Valentino Rossi's lap record from the November GP.

Biaggi found a massive 1.6secs from his limited running on Wednesday, and lapped consistently in the low 1min 33secs range, with his best a 1min 32.8secs, set during an 88lap total. The Roman put his scorching pace down to the next generation engine parts that were being tested as a prelude to the 2004 spec RCV.

"Normally to test something different you have to wait to February," he began. "From yesterday, we had some items for engine parts that are making the bike work better. I think it's a step forward from what I got in 2003. I'm sure this is a step forward. It's a little bit of horsepower. Overall it's better. Now I understand how you can win a championship.

"Now I'm smiling on the face all the time. I'm not thinking what are we doing here and there. Honestly I can say it's working better and it lets me ride the bike better," added a clearly pleased Max. "It is easier to make the lap times. I went faster today compared to the race we had here, and today it's colder and I did not use a qualifying tyre."

Trailing in Biaggi's wake by some 0.6secs were nearest rivals Sete Gibernau... and Makoto Tamada! Both claimed a 1min 33.4secs best, with Gibernau constantly on that pace while trying the new Michelin 16.5" front tyre (instead of the traditional 17" - as used by everyone except Colin Edwards this season).

"We tested a lot of things, many, many things, from engine stuff to tyres. A whole bunch. Basically I'm finished. It was a good day to test. Very positive. Many things from the engine that we have to now sit down and put everything into place to what we like, what we don't, what direction we need and what not," explained Sete, who lapped 0.5secs faster than yesterday.

"I tested a whole bunch of 16.5's in the front. I still can't ride it perfect... (but) overall with the Honda, the 17 is better right now. I was doing some endurance. I got almost 30 laps from the front tyre and I was still doing low to mid 33's, which was good, but without feeling... So we need to understand what's going on and I try to work on that side."

Tamada was much more happier, having set his impressive lap times - exactly 2secs faster than his Wednesday pace - with a new chassis and engine.

"This engine is newer so we have to study a lot and understand what kind of engine this is. We have to find the good settings. It's different internally and also engine management," said the Bridgestone user. "Today I was able to do a lot of laps, so I was able to learn a lot. I was able to try a lot of different settings. I know it has more horsepower, but it doesn't feel it. I can see it in the telemetry and my lap times. Combined with the new chassis I got after Valencia, it's a big improvement."

Behind the all-Honda top three, were Ducati Marlboro team-mates Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss, who focussed on front suspension set up, while continuing comparative tests with tyre supplier Michelin.

The Desmosedici also took to the track with 16.5" rims as well as the more traditional 17" ones. With the smaller sized front rim, the bike's handling - according to Capirossi - who completed a total of 50 laps with a best time of 1min 33.52secs.

"I like the way the bike handles with the 16.5 front, especially under braking and at maximum lean at centre curve," commented Loris. "I am really pleased with the way things are going, these three days are very busy but they are really important for the development of the bike."

Bayliss put in more laps, with 62 in total, with the Australian's quickest time a 1min 33.58secs. Troy also focussed on the front end of the bike, in particular fork settings, but unlike Loris he continued to use the 17" rim.

"Today was very positive" declared Bayliss, who found 0.7secs over yesterday. "My laps were always on the pace and I'm pleased with the way things went today. Tomorrow I'll try out the 16.5" rim, which I was really happy with when I used it in Superbike."

Last of the leading Honda and Ducati riders was new Telefonica MoviStar Honda rider Colin Edwards, who strangely struggled despite having vast experience with the 16.5 inch front tyre - having ridden it to the 2002 World Superbike Championship - but was left 1.2secs behind Biaggi, after failing to crack the 1min 34secs barrier.

"I just like the footprint that the 16.5 inch front puts down," began the Texan. "That's all I've been using all day, since yesterday. I'm used to it. I've acquired the feel already where Sete (Gibernau) has to go through the process of acquiring the feel. I still like it. We just got to work.

"I told the Michelin guys, to me the ultimate was one particular tyre I had on the Castrol Honda superbike in 2002, that was the best combo ever. We've gone away from that because we couldn't use that particular tyre. We've given up something, so we just need to develop and find that again," he added. "That's basically all I have to do. And I can do it. There toward the end I was on an old tyre. It doesn't matter if I've got a 12 lap tyre or a new tire, I go 34.0. It didn't matter how many laps, front, rear, which tyre, whatever, 34.0."

Valencia is a test split almost clearly in half, with the Honda and Ducati Marlboro riders in one lead group, and the likes of D'Antin Ducati rookies Ruben Xaus and Neil Hodgson, plus Shane Byrne (Aprilia), Nobuatsu Aoki (Proton KR) and Kurtis Roberts (Proto KR) battling in the second pack.

Topping that second group on Thursday was Xaus, some 1.49secs behind Edwards - and 0.2secs clear of team-mate Hodgson - on the pair's second day on a Desmosedici.

However, arguably more impressive was the performance of Shane Byrne - the Aprilia MotoGP rookie knocking almost two secs from his Wednesday pace to sit just a few tenths away from the race winning machinery of Xaus and Hodgson.

Rounding out the field were 2004 Proton KR race riders Nobuatsu Aoki and rookie Kurtis Roberts - the American a fighting 0.1secs behind the experienced Japanese after just one full day on his father's V5.

Testing concludes on Friday, after which there's a one-month moratorium on testing.

Valencia test - leading times, day two:

1. Max Biaggi ITA Camel Pramac Pons 1min 32.8secs
2. Sete Gibernau SPA Telefonica Movistar Honda 1min 33.4secs
3. Makoto Tamada JPN Pramac Honda 1min 33.4secs
4. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro 1min 33.52secs
5. Troy Bayliss AUS Ducati Marlboro 1min 33.58secs
6. Colin Edwards USA Telefonica Movistar Honda 1min 34.0secs
7. Ruben Xaus SPA D'Antin Ducati 1min 35.49secs
8. Neil Hodgson GBR D'Antin Ducati 1min 35.77secs
9. Shane Byrne GBR Aprilia 1min 35.9secs
10. Nobuatsu Aoki JPN Proton Team KR 1min 36.61secs
11. Kurtis Roberts USA Proton Team KR 1min 36.71secs

Comparative lap times - 2003 Valencia Grand Prix:

Pole Position: Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol Honda 1min 32.478secsFastest Lap: Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol Honda 1min 33.317secs



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