A 'surreal' atmosphere existed at Honda Gresini on Friday at Valencia, as the team began its first MotoGP event without Marco Simoncelli.

Simoncelli died at the previous Malaysian round, devastating a team that had brought 'Super Sic' into MotoGP in 2010 and enjoyed two podiums with the Italian this season.

Simoncelli had signed to stay with Gresini for 2012.

A tribute to the popular 24-year-old has been set-up within the Gresini pits at Valencia and team principal Fausto Gresini confirmed they are still struggling to come to terms with the loss.

"There is so much sadness in our garage today," he said. "The atmosphere was surreal without 'Super Sic' there and it has been extremely difficult to tackle the day.

"It goes without saying that he is missed but it was important for us to be here and honour his memory because I am sure this is what he would want."

Simoncelli's team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama is carrying a tribute to Marco on the side of his bike, rather than the usual San Carlo branding.

The Japanese, riding in his last MotoGP before switching to World Superbike, had a difficult day in the wet conditions, falling on his way to 14th on the combined practice timesheets.

"The grip levels weren't the best and even though I tried to find the limit it was very hard and I am not happy with the result," said Aoyama. "I hope I can be faster tomorrow and on Sunday.

"This is an important grand prix for me because it is my last in MotoGP and I am desperate to have a good race to honour Marco, who we are all missing greatly. I will try to do my best for all these reasons."

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