Saturday pm - This Was an Incredible Ride from Toseland

Eighth fastest, middle of the third row: the bare numbers don't look that impressive. But when you analyse what's really happening on this racetrack, James Toseland's performance in qualifying today was stunning - I use the word deliberately.

It was wonderful to see Valentino Rossi collecting his first pole in 17 races. But Vale's been competing and winning on Mugello's 3.26 miles for a dozen years: he knows these curves better than the road past his house in Tavullia, just over the hills.

'But Toseland's tested here a couple of times so he knows the track,' a few begrudgers are claiming in the paddock. Oh b*****x: the bloke rode a half-dozen reward laps round here on a 990 Ducati MotoGP bike to celebrate his '04 WSB victory for Ducati, and also had a play at the launch of the 999 road bike here. But that has relation to figuring out braking and apex points when the world's ripping by at 200mph.

There's more. Not only was the Toseland actually racing here for the first time, but rain wiped out a day and a half of dry track time - a situation that's tougher for newcomers than for old hands. So when the sun finally shone this afternoon, JT had time for only a seven-lap and a three-lap stint on race tyres (not including in and out laps) before it was time to start slapping in the quallies.

"We're getting so much more traction with the qualifiers that we're getting down the straight faster and approaching the corners faster, so you almost have to recalculate your braking points and racing lines," he told me after setting his quickest lap in 1 minute 49.025 seconds. That's only 0.895 seconds slower than Rossi, who has won six consecutive MotoGP races in these Tuscan hills.

But in racing, if you don't run you rust. So warm-up tomorrow won't be just a comfy familiarisation run for Toseland, but a tense attempt to refine his race setting to compensate for all that lost dry practice time.

"I followed Jorge [Lorenzo, who starts beside Toseland in the race] for half a dozen laps this afternoon and he wasn't pulling away, so that gave my confidence a lift for tomorrow," Toseland said. "If the setup clicks I'll go for a top six finish."

Saturday pm - Okada was Right About the Pneumatic's Speed

It's impossible to draw precise comparisons, because Tady Okada is only a wild card rider, but from his performance in qualifying today it looks as though he was right when he said that Honda's new pneumatic-valve engine is 5-8kph faster on top speed than the valve-spring models.

Okada was 15th fastest in qualifying - but eighth fastest through the speed trap at 325.2kph (201.949mph). Predictably, a Ducati rider was fastest along the straight - Marco Melandri at 330.1kph (204.992mph). But Okaka was the second fastest of the seven Hondas on the track.

Okada lapped 1.532 seconds slower than Pedrosa, so it's interesting to conjecture what the little Spaniard's top speed might have been on the pneumatic job.

Is there finally a bike that's about to rip the King of Speed Trap title from Ducati?

Saturday am - What a Surprise! 'It Was an Electrical Problem...'

So that's all right then. Just a little leccy fault stopped Tady Okada and the pneumatic-valve RC212V after only two full laps in this morning's practice session.

But if it were that simple, why didn't the bike reappear during the 54 minutes that remained? The problem was deep inside the engine and they couldn't get it sorted in time, is the official Honda line.

So the test goes on. Okada will run the prototype again in this afternoon's qualifying session. And probably only HRC's inner people will ever know whether it really was just wobby electrics or something more serious.

Saturday am - Pneumatic Honda Expires After Two Laps

Honda HRC's plans to evaluate their new pneumatic-valve engine under the full pressure and glare of a grand prix came to an embarrassing halt this morning when it expired beneath test rider Tady Okada on only his third lap.

Bike and rider were trucked back to the pits and never reappeared during the one-hour session.

Meanwhile Dani Pedrosa was fastest in the session with a lap in 1m 49.975s on the existing valve-spring bike, so he may not be in a rush to switch to the new technology for his home race at the Catalunya round at Barcelona next weekend.

This morning's session started on a damp track, then everyone pulled in when rain fell after 10 minutes. With 18 minutes remaining the sun briefly appeared, and Casey Stoner wheeled the Marlboro Ducati into second place behind Pedrosa, with Loris Capirossi looking hot for a podium position in front of his home fans on the Rizla Suzuki. But it's impossible to draw too many conclusions from these practice runs on a wet-dry, because raceday is forecast to be warm and dry.

Colin Edwards proved that the Tech 3 Yamaha has podium potential by finishing fifth fastest, so James Toseland will not be happy with his 16th place, a distant 2.02 seconds behind Pedrosa. More soon on this and the plight of the pneumatic Honda.

Saturday am - West Owes Father One Million Dollars

Will all you bar-room and chatroom punters out there who write off the careers of under-performing riders like they're victims in a video game please read what follows.

Anthony West is probably in your sights at the moment, the 27-year-old Australian struggling with the Kawasaki and sitting last in the MotoGP championship table. But nobody tries to ride a MotoGP bike slowly.

"It seemed easy when I jumped on the bike last year and got good results [two seventh places after being drafted in at mid-season]," Westy told me. "When you do good everyone becomes your friend and you get a lot of support. But as soon as you're doing bad they're all experts and they're telling you what's wrong with the bike and what's wrong with you."

So what prevents him from repeating his promising debut with the ZX-RR?

"First I thought it was the bike, then I thought it was me," he said. "My biggest problem is confidence: the engine is too aggressive for me. It spins up all the time and it's a real drama. I'm feeling pretty down at the moment, and in this game I know that if I don't improve someone else could easily take my ride."

And that's the one thing that West dreads: falling back into that black hole of low-pay or no-pay rides on uncompetitive bikes. He's spent ten years in Europe mainly riding in 250cc GPs (best seasons: sixth in 2000, seventh in 2003).

"I don't own a house, I have no savings and my car is an eight-year-old Suburu WRX," he said. "I've just moved to Belgium to be with the team, but before that I was living in a EUR330-a-month semi-basement one-room flat in Salzburg [due to a former ride with KTM]. I knew no one there and it felt like a prison."

It turns out that Westy owes his old man a staggering million Australian dollars (?482,000/EUR614,000/$955,000). "He wanted to retire when he was 50, but now he's 61 and he's working harder than ever."

Look, dear Crash.net visitors, I'm not trying to make you weep. Riders make their own decisions and have the freedom to do other jobs. It's just that there is a dark side to motorcycle racing.