After finishing second to Valentino Rossi on both days of the first 2010 MotoGP test, at Sepang earlier this month, Casey Stoner acknowledged that the reigning seven time world champion will be 'tough to beat' - but stopped short of calling him title favourite.
Rossi lapped 0.491sec ahead of Stoner on day one, before the Ducati rider closed the gap a fraction to finish 0.395sec adrift of the Italian after day two. Rossi's Yamaha team-mate and 2009 title runner-up Jorge Lorenzo was third with Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa in fourth.
“I've seen Valentino a couple times on track and he's riding really well,” said Stoner, the 2007 world champion. “He looks like he's pushing hard and riding very clean and very tidy.
“He looks good on the bike at the moment and he'll definitely be tough to beat. But as you saw last year, when the championship went down to the wire pretty much, things can always happen. So we'll just have to wait and see.”
Stoner, fourth in the 2009 standings despite missing three races, believes it could take until the midpoint of this season for a clear championship favourite to emerge.
“Who knows until we get to the first race, or even half way through the season,” Stoner replied, when asked if Rossi is favourite. “They look good but they do every year.
“They always seem to do quite well at this circuit as well. It's a track that most bikes work reasonably well at, but it's a little bit of an Achilles' heel for us. We've usually struggled here a bit more than at other places.
“We're quite happy where we are and we only need to find a few tenths in race pace,” Stoner insisted.
The next best Ducati rider after Stoner was factory team-mate Nicky Hayden, in eighth.
The second pre-season test, also at Sepang, starts later this week.