James Toseland will head for the opening round of the European MotoGP season, at Jerez this weekend, having claimed the top ten finish he 'needed' in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
The Englishman arrived at round two having suffered two huge accidents in the three pre-season tests, then finished a distant 16th after being bumped off track in the Qatar season opener.
“I needed to be back in the top ten, so today was the step I've been looking for,” declared the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider. “We made a big step with the front-end setting on Friday in just the 45 minutes of dry track time we had this weekend and it helped me a lot. The comfort on the braking was much better and I was able to pass a couple of guys on the brakes today, which was good.”
Toseland, Mika Kallio (eighth) and Nicky Hayden (DNF) were the only riders to opt for the softer Bridgestone rear tyre - the #52 naturally careful to avoid any more cold tyre highsides - and the quick heating choice helped him rise from tenth to seventh on lap one.
“I went for the soft rear tyre just because that's what I'd run most on Friday. We knew the soft one would go the distance, but it wouldn't be as strong in the latter stages of the race with the temperature being hotter today. But I didn't want to take any risks by running the harder compound, particularly as we knew it would take a couple of laps to get to temperature.
“In the early part of the race I had quite a bit more grip than some of the guys and I might have been able to pass Stoner and Capirossi if I was more comfortable with the bike on a full fuel load. That would have pushed me a bit further up earlier in the race when I had an advantage with the softer tyre.”
The soft rubber naturally wasn't as strong in the closing stages, but Toseland was able to secure ninth by 0.139sec after a last lap battle with Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen.
“It was a good battle on the last lap with Vermeulen. He passed me briefly at the end of the back straight, but I managed to keep him at bay,” he said. “I'm happy for my team because they've stood behind me and everybody has kept their morale up, and now we've got a result we can build on.”
“It was good to see James fighting strongly in the top ten and this result will have given his confidence a big boost,” added team manager Herve Poncharal. “He has had a difficult winter and first race, but he's remained incredibly focused and this is a good platform for him to build on for the rest of the season.”
Team-mate Colin Edwards finished twelfth after a technical problem.
Interestingly, despite finishing ninth, Toseland only set the 15th fastest race lap - nearly two seconds behind the best by factory Yamaha rider and race winner Jorge Lorenzo - suggesting the Englishman had to rely on consistency to vault up the order and that further set-up progress is needed to extract the proven speed potential from his M1.