Casey Stoner's hopes of avoiding his longest losing streak as a Ducati rider were boosted by a pace-setting performance during Friday practice for the US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.
Stoner hasn't won since Sepang 2009, and has thus gone nine races without a victory - including his non-start at last year's Valencia finale, where he fell on the warm-up lap.
That equals the number of consecutive winless events he suffered whilst struggling with sickness in the middle of last season (including the three races he didn't start).
Stoner - who last won at Laguna Seca during his title-winning 2007 season, then suffered a memorable defeat at the hands of Valentino Rossi the following season - finished Friday practice 0.233sec ahead of Fiat Yamaha's championship leader Jorge Lorenzo.
“Today we tried a few different things with the setting because we still need to find a better feeling with the front and also we need to adapt the braking because there are a lot more bumps here in the braking zones than there were last year," he said.
"In general we have to be happy because we're setting the pace at the moment but we have to continue this tomorrow.
"In a lot of races this season we've been fast on a Friday but not able to improve and lost ground to the others so we want to make sure that doesn't happen here.
"I'm not looking to be first in practice, I would like to be first at the end of the race on Sunday," declared the #27.
Team-mate and double US GP winner Nicky Hayden completed more laps than anyone (33) but was still left over one-second behind Stoner, in seventh place.
"The session didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped but we got a good base and learned a few things. Casey going so fast is a good thing for us because it shows the potential of the bike at this track even though we know he is really special around here," said Hayden.
"From our side we need to work a little on the gearbox tomorrow because the engine is quite different to what we had last year. It's maybe something we need to look at tonight. This track is really tricky because there are so many second and third gear corners so we need to find something that works in every one of them.”