Honda may have built the Motegi circuit, venue for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, but that is no guarantee of competiveness with the best RC212V seventh during Friday free practice.

With Dani Pedrosa, Honda's only MotoGP race winner since 2006, recovering from injury it was left to new Repsol team-mate Andrea Dovizioso to lead the Honda challenge, although the young Italian was a worrying 1.485sec behind Valentino Rossi's Yamaha.

If such a deficit continued in Sunday's race, Dovi would be left 35.64sec from victory after the 24 laps and he admitted there is work to do if he is to fight for a 'home' podium to mark the 50th anniversary of Honda's entry into Motorcycle Grand Prix Road Racing.

Rain is also predicted for Saturday, with the weather forecast for Sunday's race 50/50.

"Well it's great to be in Japan at Honda's home track and already I can feel the enthusiasm and support from the Japanese fans. Today we had a bit if a tricky session though," confessed Dovizioso.

"The cold temperatures meant that the machine was quite difficult to control so we need to improve the settings to better suit these conditions. I was wheelying quite a lot too, so that's something we need to address. I really hope that tomorrow we'll have two dry sessions to work with - though it's not looking too likely. We'll see."

Dovizioso was also Honda's top rider in the Qatar season opener, which he finished in fifth position (27.263sec from Casey Stoner).

The third factory RCV on the grid, run by the Gresini team for Toni Elias, claimed ninth. Elias also felt the weather made the bike harder to ride.

"The conditions were probably even more difficult today than they were in Qatar because the cold was incredible," said Toni. "The problem we've been having all pre-season getting heat into the tyres is exacerbated by the low track temperatures but Honda have brought us some new chassis parts here that have helped. We are still too far from where we need to be but I was the second fastest Honda today, only a tenth off the fastest one, and even though I am not satisfied with the position the important thing is we're closing the gap."

Pedrosa, who took his first Bridgestone podium at Motegi last year, set the eleventh fastest lap time, 1.846sec from Rossi.

"It's exciting to be back at Motegi for Honda's home race, though we didn't get as far forward today as we would have liked," said the Spaniard. "We went in the wrong direction with our set-up for this practice, which meant that we couldn't get as far forward on the timesheets as we should be. It looks like it's going to be raining tomorrow so perhaps we won't so much more set-up time if the race is dry, but still, we'll continue to work on the settings and see how things pan out tomorrow."

Of the remaining Honda riders, rookie Yuki Takahashi (Team Scot) was 13th on his home premier-class debut, with Alex de Angelis (Gresini) 15th and Randy de Puniet (LCR) 16th out of the 18 riders.