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Dani Pedrosa pipped Aleix Espargaro to the top spot by just 0.014s during opening practice for the Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang.

The Repsol Honda star, off the podium for the past three races, had been quickest early in the 45-minutes before putting his RCV back at the head of the timesheets in the final minutes.

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Espargaro was the only faller of the morning, sliding off at the final turn, but returned to set the fastest lap with six minutes to go. Espargaro was also running the medium compound tyres, rather than the Open class soft.

Espargaro had been the surprise of February's pre-season tests, when he threatened the Factory stars with his new Open class Forward Yamaha.

Movistar Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo completed a top three covered by a mere 0.037s, marking an encouraging start for the Spaniard considering his miserable February tests, when he had struggled badly with the 2014-spec heat resistant rear tyres.

Newly crowned double MotoGP champion Marc Marquez was 0.291s from team-mate Pedrosa in fourth place. Marquez is seeking a return to winning ways after mistakes in three of the last four rounds.

LCR Honda's Stefan Bradl took fifth place (+0.337s) ahead of Valentino Rossi (0.463s), who won his second grand prix of the season last weekend at Phillip Island.

Factory Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso (GP14.2) and Cal Crutchlow (GP14) were an evenly matched seventh and eighth, with Pramac's Yonny Hernandez (GP13) impressing with ninth.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Pol Espargaro completed the top ten and was the final rider within one second of Pedrosa. Espargaro is in a close battle with brother Aleix and fellow Tech 3 rider Bradley Smith for sixth in the wold championship.

Smith, who claimed his first MotoGP podium last Sunday in Australia, was twelfth this morning. Hiroshi Aoyama got the better of Scott Redding to be the top Open class Honda rider, in 14th.

A new hard front tyre is making its competitive debut this weekend, with the aim of trying to tempt riders away from the usual medium compound, but it was again the medium that was used by most for the initial set-up work this morning.

Rossi leads Lorenzo by eight points and Pedrosa by 25 in the fight for second in the world championship, with just two rounds remaining.

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