Nicky Hayden, announced as a 2013 Ducati MotoGP rider on Friday morning, expected better than seventh place and +1.3s from day one of his home US round at Laguna Seca.
The double US GP winner was just ninth in the morning session, before gaining half a second and two places to be the lead Desmosedici rider in the afternoon. But the gap is still too big.
“It's been a tougher day than I was hoping, especially after the great news this morning,” said Hayden. “In the first session I wasn't going that great, and then on the last exit we had a problem with the brakes.
“This afternoon we went quite a bit faster, but at the moment, the hard tyre feels a bit too hard and the soft is a bit too soft. We need to choose one and set the bike up to work with it.
“At Mugello we felt like we were the closest we had been in a long time, so to be over a second off on such a tight track here is just too much. We need to stay calm and chip away at it tomorrow.”
Team-mate Valentino Rossi, who had been seventh in the morning, briefly halted the afternoon session when he lowsided at turn three with ten minutes remaining.
The Italian was unhurt but his bike damaged the air fence. The incident denied Rossi the chance to chase a quicker lap time with the softer tyre and he was left in ninth place, 1.7s from fastest man Dani Pedrosa (Honda).
“I crashed ten minutes from the end of the second session and couldn't use the new soft tyre that we had just put on,” he said.
“It was my mistake because I felt that I had much more grip and immediately pushed hard from the first lap, but I had a hard tyre on the front and when I entered turn three a bit wide, I think it was still a bit cold and I fell.
“The important thing is I'm fine, but it's still a shame because after that I rode with the hard rear and was sliding too much to improve my time. I think that our potential for being in the second group is pretty good, not far from Crutchlow and Dovizioso [fifth and sixth].
“We'll see tomorrow as we continue riding with the setting that I like the most, the one that I crashed with and that I didn't use with the soft tyre today.”