Valentino Rossi felt a noticeable improvement in the strength of his shoulder as he claimed fourth place at the end of Friday's pair of free practice sessions for round three of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship at Estoril.

After nursing the shoulder injury for most of last season, Rossi underwent surgery last November but is yet to reach full physical fitness. However the near four-week break since Jerez has allowed the seven time MotoGP champion to make a noticeable step forward.

"I'm pretty satisfied with how the day went," said new Ducati rider Rossi. "Let's start with my physical condition, which I'm very happy with: I was obviously aware of being a little better when I arrived here, but I wanted to wait until I tested my shoulder on the track, which confirmed that I'm able to ride well and have fun.

"It still hurts a little, and I'm missing a little strength, but the difference compared to my left shoulder is less. I can concentrate on riding the bike, and when watching myself on television, I can see that my style is starting to be a little more normal.

"Naturally, we're also working on the bike. Today we used a different weight distribution and some changes to the electronics that worked well. For the first time, we went faster in the afternoon session than in the morning.

"We dropped almost half a second, getting us closer to the top. I still have some problems with rear grip, so tomorrow we have to do better, but I'm happy for now."

Rossi also exchanged verbal blows with Casey Stoner, again, this time over the Australian's claims (and gestures) that Rossi was trying to follow him.

Rossi's team-mate Nicky Hayden stopped on track with an engine problem in morning practice, before setting the ninth best time in FP2.

"This morning was not a good session at all, but the afternoon was a lot better," said Hayden. "We had a problem with one bike in FP1. I'm not sure what happened, but we'll send the engine back to Bologna to check it out. I went back out at the end, but we used hard tyres because I didn't want to waste another soft tyre, since it looks like it will be a soft-tyre race this weekend. Also, I had just gone out with a new setting, and since I only did about four corners, we got no information on that.

"We lost some valuable time, but this afternoon went better - not spectacular, but pretty steady. I was in the top ten for most of the session, and I had a decent feeling with the bike - I would say better than what the lap time shows. I'm sure everybody thinks they can do better tomorrow, but I feel like we can do a good job and try to get in a good lap in qualifying, which is going to be really important."

Rain began falling just after the end of afternoon practice and is forecast to remain a threat for the rest of the weekend.

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