Colin Edwards made a fighting start to the new MotoGP season in Qatar tonight, by finishing the opening practice session of 2009 in third position.

The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider, who had signaled his intentions with a series of impressive winter testing performances, set a best lap time behind only Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi as the MotoGP field got accustomed to its new practice format.

With Friday track time reduced from two hours to 45 minutes under new cost-cutting rules implemented for 2009, Edwards quickly worked on fine-tuning the front-end set-up of his YZR-M1.

"I'm pretty happy to have started close to the front because it is always important to try and hit the ground running," said the Texan, who lapped 0.782sec from Stoner's Ducati. "We played around with the front-end mainly because I had a few issues at the last test in Jerez with movement on the front tyre whenever I tried to really push hard. It was a bit like a speed limit in Jerez but the changes we have made feel really good.

"It's not a massive change, I'm only talking a millimetre here and there but it has taken away some of that movement and that is crucial for me because I'm such a front-end guy. I'm happy it was the right direction too because you really can't afford to waste any time with less track time now. You've got to back yourself and your team that the changes you make are going to be an improvement, and tonight it worked out.

"I've still got some small issues but I needed to make this change because it is obvious the way I force the handlebars with my arms is different to Valentino and Jorge. I'm happy to have got a good start for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team and give Herve something to smile about on his birthday!" concluded Colin, referring to team manager Herve Poncharal being 52 on Friday.

Team-mate James Toseland's pre-season preparations were stunted by two huge accidents and the Briton - second on the grid during his MotoGP debut at Qatar last year - was content with 11th on the Friday timesheets.

"I'm pleased with tonight because it has been a tough winter but I was in the ballpark right from the start," he said. "I'm eleventh but on the lap times I'm really close to the top six and that is really encouraging. The team did a great job with the base setting because I've not had much time on the bike, and their understanding of what I need has been fantastic. I felt comfortable on the bike and that was important for me.

"My right foot is a little bit sore after the crash in Jerez but it is not proving a big problem on the bike at all. I'm delighted with my recovery because for a while I couldn't even put any weight on my right foot. But if we had a race tomorrow then I'd be going for a top six position and that's where I want to be coming off the winter.

"I used the softer tyres tonight because with the track temperature ten degrees hotter than at the test, I wanted to save the harder tyres because that is what I'll need for the race. With the shorter session and less tyres, it really comes down to strategy and my team were brilliant. Hopefully now I'll be able to give Herve a belated birthday present on Sunday," he added.

Final free practice and qualifying takes place on Saturday.