Chris Vermeulen had never been ranked higher than 16th after the opening day of the Japanese Grand Prix, in the three years since his 2006 Motegi debut.
But that all changed on Friday, when the Australian began the 2009 event with a fighting fourth place - confirming hopes of a strong result at Suzuki's home event, after a disappointing debut for the highly-rated 2009 GSV-R at Qatar.
"We've had quite a good start to the weekend here at Motegi. It has not been a track I have gone well at in my last three years with Suzuki, but it has been a big improvement today,” said the Australian, who lapped 0.837sec behind Valentino Ross.
“We have taken a big step forward with the bike in certain areas - especially accelerating off the corners. There are a lot of those on to long straights here and it all seems to be working well for us.
“Today we used the same set of tyres for the whole session. They worked pretty well, but did drop-off a bit towards the end of the session, but if it is similar conditions on race-day we know what we will be using.
“Hopefully it will be dry tomorrow so we can learn more about the bike and keep improving,” concluded Chris, who finished seventh at Losail.
In contrast to Vermeulen, team-mate Loris Capirossi has a stunning Motegi record - where he was undefeated as a Ducati rider from 2005-2007. The Italian, who crashed out in Qatar, was sixth fastest on Friday, although 1.435sec from the top.
"The problem we are finding is that this is the only practice we have on Friday now and we don't have another one to keep working on the bike. We need more time to get the bike just right,” said Loris. “It is working quite well but we still have a bit of work to do on the setting.
“The conditions didn't help today because it was very cold and we couldn't get the tyres up to temperature. We used one set of tyres for the whole session and the left side still looks like new! We will see how things turn out tomorrow, but there is a forecast of rain and then it might be fine for the race, so we will just have to see what happens and try our best."
"We are happy that some of the problems that we suffered in the Qatar race haven't come up today here in Motegi. That has been reflected in the relatively competitive showings from both riders,” stated team manager Paul Denning. “The low temperatures and lack of grip was the same for everybody, so we have to be confident in the ability of the riders and the team to get the GSV-R working at its very best in these conditions. It is a solid start to Suzuki's home grand prix, but I think that we can find a fair bit more speed for both guys if it's dry tomorrow."