No Honda riders finished inside the top six at last weekend's Dutch TT, but the leading RCV representatives enjoyed a much more promising start to this weekend's US Grand Prix, with three riders inside the top six in Friday practice.
Heading the challenge was Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa, who proved to be best of the rest behind title contenders Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and Casey Stoner (Ducati) - although a significant 0.467sec gap separated Stoner and Pedrosa on the timesheets.
“I'm quite happy with how this session went on my return to Laguna Seca after missing most of last year's race meeting,” said Pedrosa, who withdrew from the 2008 event due to injury and starts the 2009 edition still gathering strength after an injured hip.
“I took my time this afternoon, getting familiar with the layout again before working up to full pace later in the session. We did a lot of laps and at the end of the session my hip was a little bit painful, but it wasn't too bad and I was able to ride the bike as normal.
“That's important here because this is a circuit where the machine wheelies and shakes quite a lot so you need to be able to control it. We have to work a little more to get the correct gearing and to improve the set-up so I think tomorrow morning's session will be very important to prepare for qualifying. I'm feeling confident for tomorrow,” he added.
Splitting Pedrosa and Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was the fellow factory spec machine, albeit run by the San Carlo Honda Gresini team, of Toni Elias. After a morale-sapping start to the season, Friday's performance was a big boost for the #24.
"We're happy to have started the weekend in this way," said Toni. "We know everybody will go faster tomorrow and we'll have to wait and see how much margin for improvement we have but for now it is important to start like this because so far this year at every circuit we've had a bad first practice.
"We've made some pretty major adjustments to the suspension here because this is a very aggressive circuit in that respect, in terms of the elevation changes, the bumps and the hard-braking areas, and we need to improve it even more tomorrow if we are to keep pace with the others.
"Tomorrow I'll be working with two identical chasses for the first time and that will be important if we want to try something radical because we can quickly revert to a setting we know is working. Hopefully that can help us improve more than usual in the time available.”