MotoGP title leader Jorge Lorenzo just kept his Fiat Yamaha ahead of the factory Ducatis of Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden during Thursday practice for the Dutch TT at Assen.

Lorenzo, who will be looking to increase his 37 point lead with a fourth win from six starts on Saturday, reached the top during the final third of the hour and then steadily improved his personal best until the chequered flag.

And he needed to. Stoner - leading the session before Lorenzo took over - continued to push him hard and closed to within just 0.011sec of the #99 on his very last lap.

Team-mate Nicky Hayden completed a strong showing for the factory Desmosedici riders with third position, albeit 0.517sec from Lorenzo, with fellow American Colin Edwards back on form in fourth place for Monster Yamaha Tech 3.

The leading Honda was second in the championship Andrea Dovizioso, in fifth, with Repsol team-mate Dani Pedrosa half a tenth behind the Italian and 0.753sec from Lorenzo.

Pramac Ducati's Aleix Espargaro put in a superb practice performance to be the leading rookie in seventh position.

Fellow rookie Ben Spies - riding at a circuit he knows from World Superbike for the first time since round one in Qatar - was a fraction slower in eighth, just four days after his debut rostrum.

Spies was in turn just a few hundredths ahead of rookie Marco Simoncelli, of San Carlo Honda Gresini, with Simoncelli's team-mate Marco Melandri the first rider over one-second from Lorenzo, in tenth. Silverstone star Randy de Puniet only eleventh for LCR Honda.

Hector Barbera (Aspar Ducati), Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki), Mika Kallio (Pramac Ducati), Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) completed the 15 full time riders.

Hiroshi Aoyama, injured last Sunday at Silverstone, has been replaced at Interwetten Honda by present HRC test rider (and former Suzuki test rider) Kousuke Akiyoshi.

The 35-year-old Japanese - who has made four previous MotoGP race starts with a best finish of 13 - was unsurprisingly 16th and last after his first hour around Assen, having lapped 6.163sec slower than Lorenzo and almost four seconds from Bautista.

Assen is faster this weekend, following modifications to the Ruskenhoek chicane at the end of the back straight, the entry to which is now far less acute. The result is a reduction in track length of 13 metres and a more flowing layout, with all previous lap records redundant.

Thursday practice:

1. Lorenzo
2. Stoner
3. Hayden
4. Edwards
5. Dovizioso
6. Pedrosa
7. Espargaro
8. Spies
9. Simoncelli
10. Melandri
11. de Puniet
12. Barbera
13. Capirossi
14. Kallio
15. Bautista
16. Akiyoshi


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