With Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo sidelined by injury, Honda riders conquered the top five places in Friday practice at Sepang in Malaysia, led by Dani Pedrosa.

The factory Repsol Honda Team filled the top three positions - Pedrosa holding a substantial 0.8sec advantage over newly crowned double world champion Casey Stoner, with Andrea Dovizioso 1.340sec from the top after failing to improve in the afternoon.

Then came Gresini Honda riders Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama, with Colin Edwards the first non-RC212V rider in sixth, 1.741sec from Pedrosa.

With Repsol cutting back to two riders in 2012, the team now has just two more chances to fulfil its dream of a podium sweep before the end of the season.

Pedrosa had led the way with soft tyres in the morning session, then improved his lap time with the hard rear tyre during the afternoon. At the end of the second session, the Spaniard used a new soft rear to record a lap of 2min 1.250sec, almost one second faster than the official circuit record set by Stoner in 2007.

"Today we went pretty fast and consistent even though the track wasn't very clean," said Pedrosa. "We did a good job in both practice sessions, but I would like to improve a little more on the chassis side to feel more comfortable with the front and choose the right tyre for the race distance.

"At the moment we are doing good steps but we need to keep on working with the same style and try to perform well tomorrow in qualifying. We had a bad qualifying in Australia and we want to be stronger here and do it better".

Stoner improved his times in the afternoon with the hard compound, after doing 21 laps with the softer one.

"Everything went pretty well today, we're not too far off the pace with race tyres, we did over race distance and were pretty happy with the lap times we were doing on the soft tyre," he said.

"We then went to the hard tyre and found it a little better and more consistent, we'll have to see what the conditions are like tomorrow but so far we're pretty pleased and the bike feels ok.

"We have some areas to improve on, we need to get the bike turning a little better into the corners, better braking stability and a little more rear grip in the traction area, if we can improve these then we'll move a step closer".

Dovizioso was one of only two riders not to improve during the afternoon.

"This morning we started with a good base and we worked on the set up to improve the feeling with the front," he said. "The small changes we made worked well, but I'm struggling quite a lot in the middle of the corner with the bike leaning at the maximum angle, because on this track there is not so much grip, we need to continue working on the set up of the engine brake.

"Today we tested the rear hard tyre in both session, but it seems possible to race also with the soft so tomorrow we will test also the soft rear to understand how it works and to decide the tyre for the race. Today it was very hot, on Sunday the race will be at 4pm so it could be cooler, this is another element to consider. All in all, I'm positive, I really like this track and this is only the first day".

Dovizioso will start Sunday's race just four points ahead of Pedrosa in the battle for third in the championship.

Simoncelli, who performed well in February's Sepang tests, hopes to claim his first back-to-back MotoGP podiums this weekend, but knows Pedrosa will be hard to catch.

"We improved from the morning to the afternoon but Pedrosa is like a missile," said the Italian. "We have to have a look at our data tonight and work out how we can close the gap. As well as choosing our tyres for the race we also need to find better feeling with the front in corner entry and try to work on the electronics to get more out of the acceleration in the final section. We have work to do but I am confident."

Team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama, starting his last two grands prix before moving to WSBK, was delighted to be the top satellite bike rider on Friday.

"It has been a good start and my feeling for the bike is great," said the Japanese. "I had a lot of confidence with the bike already last week at Phillip Island but the rain ruined everything. The conditions are completely different here and the track temperature is high, which gives me a better feeling for the bike. We have been able to make some interesting comparisons with the data from winter and previous races, which should help me to do well this weekend. Tomorrow we will try to improve again and secure a good starting position on Sunday's grid."

The other Honda rider on the grid, LCR's Toni Elias, couldn't share in the success and was only 16th out of the 18 riders.

"We came here in February for the winter test and, at that time, we had some issues in the braking and the bike was unstable and all the weight was going into the front and also in the mid-corner I did not have enough weight transfer to load the rear tyres," said Elias.

"Months later we are back here and the bike set-up is totally different, but we are still struggling even for the grip level which is lower compared to the winter test. We still have a lot of things to adjust to improve the bike stability especially in the fast corners".


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