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Aleix Espargaro followed up his Assen pole by setting the fastest lap time during opening practice for the German MotoGP at Sachsenring, with world champion Marc Marquez sixth after suffering neck pain in a nasty highside.

Espargaro, like the other Open class riders, has been looking 'forward' to the tight, twisty and shortest circuit of the season, since it will reduce the usual top speed deficit to the Factory bikes.

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A career best fourth in the Assen race, the Forward Yamaha rider had also been fourth heading into the final minute of FP1, when he used the special soft Open class tyre to jump ahead of Movistar Yamaha team-mates Jorge Lorenzo (+0.253s) and Valentino Rossi (+0.296s). Aleix's younger brother Pol completed a Yamaha-powered top four on the Factory class Tech 3 bike.

But it was Lorenzo who led for most of the session, providing the perfect response to a poor Dutch TT, when he was 'scared' to push harder in the drizzle due to last year's accident, plus similarly painful memories from the 2013 German round - when both Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa missed the race due to collarbone damage in practice.

Gresini Honda's Alvaro Bautista was best of the non-M1 powered riders this morning after posting a late fifth (+0.461s), followed by Marquez (+0.597s).

Marquez, winner of all eight races this year for a 72-point lead over Rossi and Pedrosa, fell at the long second turn in the opening minutes.

Despite the relatively low speed the young Spaniard was flung high into the air and landed heavily on his head, staying on his knees in the gravel in obvious discomfort.

The 21-year-old eventually limped away and was soon back in the Repsol Honda pits, albeit rubbing his neck - team manager Livio Suppo later confirming Marquez was suffering pain in his neck - and returned just before the midway stage.

Behind Marquez, home star Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda), Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), plus Pramac Ducati riders Andrea Iannone and Yonny Hernandez completed a typically close Sachsenring top ten covered by 0.726s.

Andrea Dovizioso was first of the Factory Ducati riders in eleventh with team-mate Cal Crutchlow just behind countryman Bradley Smith in 13th.

Marquez's early fall had come just moments after a more spectacular accident for Smith, who was sent sliding down the track at turn 10 after the rear wheel of his Tech 3 Yamaha kicked out on the exit of the corner.

Rather than walking away, the Englishman bravely stood on the circuit to warn following riders that his M1 was lying out of sight on the apex of Turn 11.

Smith had been joined by Bradl and Iannone in trying out an alternative, tighter layout for the turn 11 'Waterfall' corner on Thursday - the idea being rejected due to the increase in lean angle making it even more treacherous.

Smith's morning came to an early conclusion when he fell again at the end of the session, also losing the rear but this time catching it - only to run off the circuit and fall in a downhill gravel trap.

Both Rossi and Lorenzo were riding with the new, shorter, exhaust system.

Pedrosa is the most successful rider at the Sachsenring with six wins, including four in the MotoGP class. However Marquez has won on his last four German visits - covering 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP.

Free Practice 1:
1. Aleix Espargaro
2. Jorge Lorenzo
3. Valentino Rossi
4. Pol Espargaro
5. Alvaro Bautista
6. Marc Marquez
7. Stefan Bradl
8. Dani Pedrosa
9. Andrea Iannone
10. Yonny Hernandez
11. Andrea Dovizioso
12. Bradley Smith
13. Cal Crutchlow
14. Nicky Hayden
15. Scott Redding
16. Hector Barbera
17. Karel Abraham
18. Colin Edwards
19. Hiroshi Aoyama
20. Michael Laverty
21. Mike Di Meglio
22. Broc Parkes
23. Danilo Petrucci