Nicky Hayden put in an encouraging performance during day one of the Japanese Grand Prix, when he led the Ducati challenge in both of Friday's free practice session at Motegi.
The American was third in FP1, then sixth in FP2, when he trailed Honda's Dani Pedrosa by 0.591sec.
“I had fun riding the bike today, and that's important," said Hayden. "This morning was really encouraging, because I could ride comfortably, and we really haven't made many changes throughout the day. I've steadily got a little bit faster, but the others made a bigger jump in the afternoon.
"I've certainly had worse Fridays this year, but we've got a long way to go if we want to be near the front on Sunday afternoon. We've got a couple of small ideas to try to improve the bike under braking. As hard as Ducati has worked to try to help us, it would be really nice to give them a result they deserve.”
Hayden is riding with the full carbon-fibre chassis on his GP11.1. Factory team-mate Valentino Rossi was eighth fastest (+1.185sec) at the start of his second event with the new aluminium front-frame.
“We made progress with the bike throughout the day, and as a result we improved our lap times, dropping below 1min 48," said Rossi. "The pace is still far from the top, but not bad for now. There are a number of things to resolve, but we're definitely not in the situation we were at Aragon, where we always had big problems with rear grip. That's not the case here.
"We worked on weight distribution, loading the front a little more, and it's better. Tomorrow we must try to drop into the low 1min 47 range. That's our goal. Nicky is already there [1min 47.3], although he chose to ride mainly with the soft tyre. The track is good. The asphalt has good grip, and they did a good job.”
Since the start of the four-stroke MotoGP era in 2002, Ducati have been the most successful manufacturer at Motegi with four victories - including last season, with Casey Stoner.
Honda riders have won on three occasions and Yamaha twice.