Pol Espargaro put the Yamaha Factory Racing Team on top of the timesheets during Thursday's opening practice sessions for the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
Riding on a machine shared with Tech 3 MotoGP team-mate Bradley Smith and Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Espargaro took the #21 R1 to a time of 2m 7.282s.
That put the Yamaha trio almost one-second clear of nearest rivals Moriwaki Honda and 1.2s quicker than defending event winners Musashi RT Harc-Pro, whose line-up of Casey Stoner, Michael van der Mark and Takumi Takahashi were placed fifth on day one.
Smith and Nakasuga backed up Espargaro's performance by also lapping in the 2m 7s.
“I did the fastest lap time today, so the bike and the team are working well and it all looks really good,” said Espargaro. “I have some confidence, but the race is another thing, in the tests you can make mistakes without many consequences, but in the race you have to be consistent and pay a lot of attention to make sure you don't crash, as after all this is a team.
“The YZF-R1 gives us no excuses as riders, it's working so good and so are the team. All my team-mates are really fast and our pace is good for the race, I can't ask for anything more.
“It's not easy to ride with so many riders on the track, but we are adapting to this other type of racing. It's a characteristic of this race that there are many riders on the track and if we want to win, we have to compete with them and we are learning to overtake and not be too aggressive and crash, but overtake them fast.”
Blending bike set-up to suit three different riders is an alien concept for Espargaro and Smith, but the Spaniard believes a good balance has been found.
“Nakasuga set-up the base setting and he did a really good job. Bradley and I gave a little bit of input, coming from MotoGP, thinking this could help a little bit, but mainly Nakasuga did the job as he is always riding the bike,” Espargaro said.
“Maybe the one with the most challenges is Bradley, because he is tall, while Nakasuga and I are of similar height and weight. Bradley weighs about the same, but is a little bit taller, for sure his style is a bit different, but it was no problem, he is adapting really well and is fast like me.
“The balance of the team is really good and we all have the same pace and riding similar lap times and it's all really good.”
The first of Thursday's sessions took place on a wet track and Smith feels they have nothing to fear if bad weather interrupts Sunday's race.
“Today was good. I think it was good to train in the rain again this morning, because we tested here in the wet on the first two days of the first test and it was nice to refresh our memories, also to gain a little bit of information in case it does rain on raceday,” he said.
“In this afternoon the conditions were really good with the lower temperature on the racetrack. It looks like we have a more or less clear which direction to go for with the race tyres, which is also good. Obviously we have to confirm that over the next two days and check the track and ambiance temperature. From what we learned from the last test and this afternoon I think we are 95% ready for the race.”
The Englishman admitted the unfamiliar surroundings and big expectations - Yamaha has hired the MotoGP stars to try and claim its first '8 Hours win since 1996 - caused some early anxiety, but the speed shown by all three riders soon settled his nerves.
“I was a little bit nervous this morning, because this is not the same structure that I'm used to, so I woke up this morning a didn't know exactly when I was going to ride or the program, because I ride as the third rider.
“Small details, like trying to get ready and the time to get into your leathers is difficult to judge, also being here in a slight different environment, are small details that make you feel abnormal and when you go inside the garage you know there are big expectations and you see all the riders riding here so it's a little bit different.
“I'm sure tomorrow and day by day it will get easier, but this race means a lot and is really important for our team and Yamaha. When you want such a good job you feel a bit of pressure and nerves but it's good for performance. Today we were the top three riders, so from that point of view it seems to be working.”
Nakasuga was clearly impressed by the pace of the Suzuka rookies.
“Even though we know that Pol and Bradley are MotoGP riders of the highest level, we can't help but be impressed by the fact that after only having run here at Suzuka a few times, they are already recording lap times in the 2'07 range,” said Nakasuga, himself a MotoGP podium finisher.
“We three riders all respect each other and have all taken our roles on the team to heart. And, with their speed and me being pulled along by them, I feel an amazing synergistic effect. The team is undoubtedly at a very high level.”
Team manager Wataru Yoshikawa added: “In the afternoon session Nakasuga, Pol and Bradley all ran times in the 2m 7s range, which shows that all three are very fast. As for the machine, we are getting a variety of requests from Pol and Bradley, and since Nakasuga knows the R1 so well, we are having him deal with their requests and verifying what needs to be done.
“Today we worked hard on the final aspects of the set-up, and of course this work will continue in tomorrow's sessions. The atmosphere on the team is very good and the riders respect each other.
“All three of them are specialists in sprint races, and that means they naturally have a strong desire to be the fastest. But this time, for the sake of the team effort, they are restraining themselves in that respect. I really want to see us win the race with this fantastic team.”
Friday's schedule will begin with a further free practice session, before each rider takes part in two qualifying sessions. A night practice session will then be held.