By Peter McLaren

Colin Edwards says his exit from the factory Yamaha team has removed pressure from his shoulders, increased his motivation and - if last week's Sepang test is anything to go - helped propel him to the sharp end of the MotoGP field.

Edwards, transferred to the satellite Tech 3 outfit to make way for 250cc world champion Jorge Lorenzo in the Fiat team, finished the three-day Malaysian test in fourth place - but was second on all-important race tyre times after a "phenomenal" lap of 2mins 1.179secs, which put him just 0.2secs slower than world champion Casey Stoner.

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"Colin was one of the fastest on race tyres, which is very important," team principal Herve Poncharal told "Qualifying tyres may change the order - I think Nicky Hayden [quickest overall at the test] improved his time by almost one and a half seconds with a qualifying tyre - but what we're here for is to prepare for racing."

Edwards was the only rider in the top eight to set his best time while using multi-lap rubber - and his only real disappointment was that he couldn't lower his pace further during a qualifying run.

"Our plan was to come here and figure out why we're getting a little bit of chatter with the qualifier. We fixed that problem and now we've encountered another problem. We know how to fix that too so it's no big deal," Edwards told

"But as far as race tyres, the bike, the team and everything - I couldn't be happier. Michelin have been doing a brilliant job and Yamaha have made a pretty big step with the chassis, so it's looking good so far," he confirmed.

Sepang marked the former double World Superbike champion's first taste of the new 2008 YZR-M1, which for the satellite Tech 3 team is powered by an improved version of the traditional spring-valve engine. The pneumatic-valve engine is presently only available to the factory team, until it shows a clear - and reliable - improvement over the standard design.

"Engine wise, we're not running the latest of the latest, but I think it's stronger than what we had at the last test," said Edwards. "We could use a little more top speed, but that'll come whenever they have it available."

The #5 added that it's rumoured he'll get the pneumatic-valve engine "a couple of races into the season."

Whatever the valve system, Edwards gives the impression that the biggest card up his sleeve will be Michelin tyres - despite last year's sudden decline, which prompted former team-mate Valentino Rossi to make a much-publicised switch to Bridgestone. A decision the Italian superstar, almost 0.7secs slower than Edwards on race tyres at Sepang, may yet regret...

"I think everybody doubted Michelin - and I did too - but we should have known better," said Edwards. "Michelin are Michelin. They're going to fight and they're going to do whatever they have to do. They've showed up here with so much stuff and they've done a fantastic job. The improvement over last year is big."

Lorenzo's graduation to Edwards' factory seat, an open secret for much of last season, had put the 33-year-old's MotoGP future in jeopardy - especially as Colin had little interest in leaving Yamaha at this stage in his career.

But with Tech 3 returning to Michelin tyres and enjoying increased factory support for 2008, the opportunity to remain on a competitive Yamaha M1 was born. An exciting line-up is completed by another double World Superbike champion, James Toseland, making his debut in grand prix racing.

Colin has been widely praised for his sincere efforts to help Toseland adapt to prototype machinery and the Englishman was recently quoted by the Press Association as saying: "This is going to be [Colin's] last year in MotoGP and he wants to pass on everything he knows, so I am going to be like a sponge this year."

If 2008 does mark the last season of Edwards' MotoGP career - during which he has ridden a factory Aprilia (2003), satellite Honda (2004), factory Yamaha (2005-2007) and now satellite Yamaha - then it might also turn out to be his best.

"I'm feeling really good about this year. My motivation level is quite a bit higher than normal," Colin revealed. "I always feel like I'm motivated, but this year, with the new team - and probably a little bit less pressure, not being in the factory team - it's fun. I'm just having fun. And when it's fun, it's motivating."

Edwards has taken two pole positions, eight podiums and a best championship position of fourth (2005) so far in MotoGP - but the nearest he has come to victory remains his dramatic last-turn showdown with Nicky Hayden at Assen 2006.

Tech 3's Texas Tornado, 31 times a WSBK race winner, will next be out on track at Phillip Island in Australia, from January 30 to February 1.