Ducati's Nicky Hayden got the season-opening Qatar MotoGP off to a promising start with third place during Thursday night's free practice session at Losail.
The American had switched to a soft tyre to set his best time, which was 0.450sec from Honda's Casey Stoner and half that margin behind Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo.
“The first session went well,” said Hayden. “This track is a lot different than what we experienced in Jerez, more open and a lot wider. It was quite dirty and not very grippy, which helped us a bit. We started off on the hard tyre and then switched to the soft for the last exit, and I was able to do a nice lap.
“In general we were pretty fast and consistent, and I've certainly had worse sessions here, but we'll just stay calm, keep trying to improve and try to get a good grid spot on Saturday night. It's just one session, and there's a long way to go. Sunday night is what counts, and it would be nice to get this team a result it deserves.”
Team-mate Valentino Rossi was left just tenth on the timesheets, a further second from Hayden.
The good news for the Italian legend was that he used the same hard tyre throughout the session. The bad news was that Rossi's ongoing understeer issue became worse as the tyre lost grip.
“It's the first practice and I used the hard tyre the whole session, trying to do a lot of laps in order to understand it,” said Rossi.
“The new tyre is much better for warming up, so good for safety, but it started to slide a lot after some laps and made some of the understeer worse.
“We have to work with the setting and also the electronics. The soft will be important for Saturday, but the hard will be the tyre for the race. Tomorrow we'll try to do better.”
Second and third free practice takes place on Friday evening.