Casey Stoner pulled comfortably clear of Spanish home heroes Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa during free practice at Valencia on Friday, at the start of the final race weekend of the 2009 MotoGP season.
Stoner - who has finished 2nd, 1st and 1st in the three races since his mid-season break to treat fatigue problems - hit the top of the timesheets late in the session, making several improvements on his way to a comparatively large (for Valencia) 0.382sec advantage over nearest rival Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha).
Lorenzo only needs to score one point this weekend to prevent Stoner taking second in the championship from him, but pride will also be at stake with both having won four races so far this year.
Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa, who starts the weekend eleven points behind Stoner and facing his last chance to continue a record of two wins per season since his 2006 MotoGP debut, was fastest during the early stages before finishing the hour 0.428sec from Stoner.
Newly crowned seven time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi ran through the gravel at turn one on his way to fourth position, 0.686sec from the top. The Italian superstar has not won at Valencia since 2004.
A 0.411sec gap then separated the 'big four' from the rest of the field, with fifth placed Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) just over one-second slower than Stoner. Alex de Angelis also made a competitive start, to his final weekend at Gresini Honda, with sixth.
The battle for fifth in the championship between Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) and Colin Edwards (Tech 3 Yamaha) - who start the weekend just four points apart - saw the pair closely matched in seventh (Edwards) and eighth (Dovizioso).
Loris Capirossi was the leading Suzuki rider in ninth, with Stoner's factory Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden completing a top ten covered by 1.649sec.
The last weekend in the MotoGP paddock for James Toseland (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki), before they return to World Superbike, saw the pair finish 13th and 16th in free practice.
2009 World Superbike champion Ben Spies, making his Yamaha MotoGP debut as a wild-card on a fifth YZR-M1 this weekend, finished his first hour on the motorcycle in 15th position - out of the 18 riders.
The American set a best lap time 2.239sec from Stoner, but was only 0.187sec behind Toseland, whom he will replace in 2010. If Spies, who took a best finish of sixth during three MotoGP races for Rizla Suzuki last season, can find half a second overnight he will be on the edge of the top ten.
Behind Spies was Vermeulen, Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) and Aleix Espargaro (Pramac Ducati).
5. de Puniet
6. de Angelis