Valentino Rossi admitted it felt good to be back on top of the MotoGP timesheets, after edging out Casey Stoner by just 0.056sec during free practice at Motegi on Friday.
Rossi had been second to Stoner in all six track sessions at the Qatar season-opener, and the Australian looked set to extend his perfect run on day one in Japan, until Rossi nudged his Fiat Yamaha ahead on his very last lap of the single 45-minute session.
“This is a very good start because we're at the top and this is very important!” said Rossi, who claimed his eighth championship title at the Honda-owned track just six months ago.
“The conditions today were hard and it was difficult to reach the limit and work to the maximum with the bike and tyres, but it looks like we have a good potential here so I am happy.
“It's important to be in front, even though it's only Friday, because in Qatar we were second in every session and really we don't like second so much; for sure first is much better!” he added.
However, with the weather looking unsettled for the rest of the weekend, Friday might be the only dry session before the race.
“Tomorrow it seems it may rain but we haven't had the chance to try the new Bridgestone rain tyres yet so I think that this could be an important chance for us to understand how they are,” said the Italian. “It will be interesting and I hope they are good!”
“It's nice to be back on top, even if it's only Friday!” confirmed team manager Davide Brivio. “It was always going to be very important to make the most of this session because there's a chance it could be the only dry one, so we wanted to try to explore a few different things. It went ok; we can definitely improve more but we have made a good start.”
Rossi beat Stoner by two seconds for victory at Motegi last season.
Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, on pole at the 2008 event, was third fastest in Friday practice.