Randy de Puniet admitted he was as surprised as anyone to find himself fastest during Thursday free practice for the Dutch TT at Assen.

The Honda LCR rider spent most of the session in the lower reaches of the top ten, before a fast series of laps on the hard tyre propelled him forwards.

The Frenchman's best lap time was aided by a slipstream from Chris Vermeulen's Suzuki and edged out reigning MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi by 0.005sec.

"I'm very surprised!" admitted de Puniet. "I really like this track and my bike is good for this type of track, but I had some problems in the beginning with the soft tyre. I made some mistakes, I was a little nervous and I also had some problems on the brakes and with the electronics.

"At the end I used the hard tyre for the last five laps and I did a very good lap time. I'm satisfied. The bike is good for the first day. We can improve the bike and the electronics and also myself.

"This is a big surprise for everybody, but it is a good surprise! It will be difficult to keep this place but I will give maximum tomorrow and Saturday," he added.

de Puniet will start Saturday's race holding ninth in the championship with a best race finish of fourth at Jerez. He is the leading satellite Honda rider.

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