Defending Dutch TT winner Casey Stoner was pleasantly surprised at how quickly his Ducati Desmosedici adapted to the Assen circuit during Thursday practice.

Stoner was immediately at ease with the base setting of his GP9 and able to work on gradual improvements to suit the fast and flowing layout.

Stepping up his pace towards the end of the session, the 2007 world champion finished third fastest, just 0.035 seconds off the fastest lap, despite being held up by traffic.

"This afternoon went really well for us and we've started off where we left off in Catalunya, which is a great sign," said Stoner, level with Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo at the top of the championship.

"Generally with this bike we've had to make a lot of changes from track to track and we usually have to spend the first session working really hard to adapt the set-up, but on this occasion it feels good out of the box.

"We tried a couple of things during the session but once we got onto the harder front tyre it all clicked into place and we could have gone a lot faster but I got held up on a couple of laps and then on my last lap I pushed the front a bit too hard and ran wide.

"We still have some improvements to make but generally speaking it is very positive to start out on the pace - especially at such a windy circuit, because usually we struggle in the wind," he added.

Team-mate Nicky Hayden was ranked twelfth out of the 19 riders, juts over one second behind fastest man Randy de Puniet.

"We had some different ideas to try here with the electronics and we ran them at the beginning of the session but I didn't like them, so we went back to something similar to what we had in Barcelona, which enabled us to move up a bit," explained the American.

"The gap to the front is closer than it's been at other tracks but unfortunately a second around here is a lot of time and our position is not much of an improvement. There are some parts of the track that are pretty good and other sections where I'm kind of in between gears so we obviously need to look at the transmission tonight and put it all together a little better for tomorrow. We've got a lot of work to do but we're used to that!

"I'm running the number 22 on my helmet this weekend for a close friend of our family back in America, Nick Cummins, who got hurt in a dirt-track event recently," he revealed. "His Dad used to sponsor me when I was younger and I just want him and his family to know that we're with them and thinking about them, hoping things come right."

Hayden won the 2006 Dutch TT after a last turn showdown with countryman Colin Edwards.


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