This afternoon's MotoGP qualifying session at Motegi will begin with title contenders Dani Pedrosa or Jorge Lorenzo having led every single minute of the three practice sessions in Japan.

While Friday morning was dominated by Lorenzo, Saturday's final practice - like the Friday afternoon session - saw both Lorenzo and Pedrosa feature at the front, with Pedrosa again emerging quickest.

The Repsol Honda rider, who trails Lorenzo by 33 points with four rounds to go, took over from Lorenzo just after the halfway stage, setting a new fastest lap of the weekend by 0.296s.

Lorenzo's best time was set even earlier, on lap 4 of 19, and proved to be 0.265s slower than Pedrosa.

Lorenzo's Yamaha team-mate Ben Spies, who has revealed his brake callipers were sticking along the straights on Friday, moved forward to become a close 'best of the rest' in FP3, sealing third place with a lap just 0.281s from Pedrosa.

That pushed Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Andrea Dovizioso to fourth by a mere 0.082s, with San Carlo Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista fifth and Cal Crutchlow completing a top six covered by 0.644s.

Casey Stoner, making his MotoGP return this weekend after skipping three races due to injury, had suffered a problematic Friday due to technical problems with his Honda and physical issues with his healing ankle.

The limping Repsol Honda rider remained seventh on Saturday morning, but a closer 0.688s - compared with 0.890s - from the top.

Valentino Rossi saved a leg-off moment after a fast rear-end slide in the closing stages on his way to eighth and top Ducati, the Italian also being the final rider within one-second of Pedrosa.

Stefan Bradl (Honda LCR) and Nicky Hayden (Ducati) completed the top ten, with Aleix Espargaro the leading CRT rider in eleventh place for Aspar - the Spaniard's 1.893s gap to Pedrosa a commendable margin given the stop-go nature of the circuit.

Three manufacturer riders were slower than Espargaro: Hector Barbera (Pramac), Yamaha wild-card Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Karel Abraham (Ducati).

Further back, Ioda's Danilo Petrucci made notable progress this morning, rising from 22nd and last in both Friday sessions to 17th in FP3, with a lap time improvement of over two seconds.

Saturday practice:

1. Dani Pedrosa
2. Jorge Lorenzo
3. Ben Spies
4. Andrea Dovizioso
5. Alvaro Bautista
6. Cal Crutchlow
7. Casey Stoner
8. Valentino Rossi
9. Stefan Bradl
10. Nicky Hayden
11. Aleix Espargaro
12. Hector Barbera
13. Katsuyuki Nakasuga
14. Karel Abraham
15. Randy De Puniet
16. James Ellison
17. Danilo Petrucci
18. Michele Pirro
19. Roberto Rolfo
20. Yonny Hernandez
21. Colin Edwards
22. Ivan Silva