Valentino Rossi's MotoGP return, on Friday at the Sachsenring in Germany, was fast in several ways.

Not only was the Italian superstar returning one month earlier than his own 'optimistic' goal of mid-August - the doctors themselves had warned it could take until November to be fully fit - but he was also straight back on the pace.

Expected to take things gently, Rossi instead led the timesheets after just seven minutes and finished the hour with a best lap only 0.02sec behind his Fiat Yamaha team-mate and title leader Jorge Lorenzo.

Admittedly the factory M1s were left in sixth and seventh places - the fastest M1 was Ben Spies in fourth, 0.055sec in front of Rossi - but the reigning seven time MotoGP champion was within 0.73sec of fastest man Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda).

After the session Rossi applied ice to his leg, but had no more pain than is to be expected and is looking forward to making more improvements tomorrow.

"I am really happy today, especially because I am a lot more agile on the bike than I was in the tests," declared Valentino, who made two appearances on an R1 Superbike before attempting this weekend's return.

"I feel good and this track is helping me because a lot of it turns to the left. I am feeling quite confident on the bike and also my shoulder is good and not giving me problems. Now I have some pain in the leg and ankle but it's not too bad, I was able to do some laps in a row and I was quite fast so things seem okay.

"Now we will have to wait until tomorrow morning to see how the leg is and whether it has swelled overnight or developed any problems," he added.

"Once again Valentino has surprised everyone!" smiled team manager Davide Brivio. "After missing four races and not being completely fit this can be considered a very good session.

"From a team point of view it was like he had never been away, working on the suspension and searching for the best set-up. His physical condition isn't too bad, a bit more difficult in the right hand corners and okay on the left, but overall it is a lot better than we expected.

"We're very happy and now we'll see where we can get to tomorrow."