Just two weeks after limping home in eleventh place at Qatar, Dani Pedrosa saved Honda honour with a 'fantastic' third in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at the Honda-owned Motegi circuit.

Starting just eleventh on the grid and still suffering after last month's knee and forearm surgery, Pedrosa rocketed up to second position behind only Valentino Rossi into turn one.

The Spaniard thought it unlikely that he'd be able to run at the front for long, but surprised himself by being no lower than third for the remainder of the race - and briefly overtaking Rossi for second on lap 18 of 24.

"I'm very happy with this result," said Dani. "I've had injury problems for a long time - since last October - and so to be on the podium in the second race of the season is fantastic for me, and really we didn't expect this so soon.

"I got a good start - the start was really the key part of my race - and I was able to get away with the front group. I couldn't really believe it when I stayed with them because I was expecting to drop back after maybe one or two laps. But then it was lap five or six and I was still there and I was thinking, 'this is unbelievable'," he added.

Pedrosa eventually finished 3.8sec behind winner Jorge Lorenzo, compared with 48.526sec at Qatar.

"In the end I was near the front for the whole race, had a good battle for second, and finished on the podium so this is great," he declared. "We still have to sort out some issues on the machine, but it's a very positive result going in to the Jerez, and I'd like to say big thanks to the team and the fans."

Team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was pipped for fourth place on the second-to-last lap by Qatar winner Casey Stoner, but was pleased with his pace after a difficult, rain-affected weekend that saw yesterday's qualifying session cancelled due to heavy rain.

"I'm pretty happy after this race because, considering that we struggled a lot during all the practice sessions, we were able to stay near the front for 24 laps," said Dovi, after his second race as a factory Honda rider.

"I was pushing really hard for a podium finish for the whole race but in the end I couldn't make it. It was a tough race and this is a very demanding track, with many hard braking zones so we struggled a lot physically to achieve this result."

The Italian also paid tribute to the performance of Pedrosa.

"I think me and Dani just gritted our teeth and got on with it today," he said. "It's promising because we've reduced the gap to the guys in the front. I was 27 seconds behind the winner in Qatar and only 9 seconds behind here, so this is a good step forward.

"But we must keep on working hard. I have to give my compliments to Dani - he did a great race. I made a good start and was able to maintain a good pace during the race, but we still have to fine-tune the machine so that we can be really competitive," he warned.

Sunday's race was preceded by a reunion of legendary Honda Grand Prix riders to mark 50 years since Honda first entered the Road Racing World Championship.

Honda's first world championship rider, Naomi Taniguchi, rode a specially built replica of the RC142 he rode at the 1959 Isle of Man TT. He was joined by Kunimitsu Takahashi, the first Japanese rider to win a grand prix for Honda, who was riding an RC164, and three-time world champion, Freddie Spencer.

"This was an exciting race and, with the home crowd cheering them on, it was like both Repsol Honda riders had some extra power today," said team manager Kazuhiko Yamano. "There were a lot of Honda flags out there and I'm pleased we gave the fans something to cheer about."

Nevertheless, Yamano acknowledged that the RC212V is not yet good enough.

"Both Dani and Andrea pushed really hard today and their performance was very strong, but for the moment the machine is holding them back," he said. "In every session they gave the same feedback and we're still working to improve the performance of the bike so that we can close the gap to our rivals.

"Finally I'd like to say thank you to Andrea and Dani, and to the fans."

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