Ben Spies finished his very first hour at the Sachsenring in Germany with the fourth fastest lap time - and as the leading Yamaha rider.

The Sachsenring is the sixth track so far that the MotoGP rookie has had to learn from scratch and the reigning World Superbike champion spent most of the session learning the tight and twisty layout using a hard compound Bridgestone rear tyre.

But once he switched to the softer option he is likely to select for Sunday's 30-lap race, he was immediately able to surge up the leaderboard.

Just five minutes remained when Spies clocked his best time and it was only a late attack from fellow American Nicky Hayden that denied the 25-year-old a stunning top three position on his Monster Yamaha.

Like Hayden, Spies believes the tight, anti-clockwise nature of the circuit suits former dirt track riders.

"I'm really happy to be so high up after the first session and I think I figured out this track pretty quickly," began Spies, who ran through the gravel early ion the session. "It is good to start the weekend in the top five and that gives us a platform to build on. This circuit is pretty tight and twisty and there are a lot of left-hand corners but I like it because there is quite a lot of elevation that makes it fun. It felt like being out on a dirt track bike and I see Nicky is right up there too.

"If the weather isn't as good tomorrow I'm really glad that I got going today and was able to get a feel for the track but also put in some fast lap times. I went out on the hard tyre, which I don't think I'm going to race on, just to learn the track and when I put the softer tyre on I was able to go quite a bit faster.

"There are a couple of places where I can improve like the left-handers before the fast right downhill section but it was a decent start. I'm pretty sure already that I'll race the soft tyre. I'm sure I can do the times on the hard tyre but we'll see what the conditions are like. It's a positive start and that's all I can ask for," added the World Superbike champion, who took his first MotoGP podium at Silverstone.

Team-mate Colin Edwards is still desperately searching for an effective set-up for his M1 and, although only 13th fastest, was 0.919sec from fastest man Dani Pedrosa.

"The nature of this track means the times are always close and I'm not even a second off the best time but I'm down in 13th. I'm only around three-tenths behind Ben but he's nine places further up than me," confirmed Edwards.