Loris Capirossi could mark his record-equalling 276th grand prix start with his first Suzuki podium, after finishing third fastest in Friday free practice for the Czech Republic Grand Prix at Brno.
Capirossi is still nursing the arm injury he sustained in Assen in June, but appeared untroubled by the wound as he consistently improved his times around the newly re-surfaced circuit.
"I am really happy with today's performance because after the first couple of laps this morning I was a bit worried, because we just hadn't got the setting right," revealed the Italian. "I think that was mostly down to the new surface and it was a bit dirty and made it very difficult to control the bike. I came into the box and we made some changes to the bike and by the end of this morning's session the feeling was good.
"We made a lot more changes this afternoon and with the new setting I felt really good on the bike. My lap-time is not too bad, but I think we can improve on that, we have the power and I need to work on my rhythm a bit. One of the best things today is that I am nearly at 100% after the injury, my condition is great and this weekend I want to give the team something good because after recent races they really need it!" he admitted.
"The first thing I have to say is that it's great to have the original spec Loris back in the garage!" declared team manager Paul Denning. "His arm is still causing him some pain and it doesn't look too good, but it is at a level now where it isn't restricting his riding and he is able to concentrate on the bike and his own performance. Being in the top-three today is a great encouragement for the team and tremendous personal boost for Loris after all the pain of the recent grands prix."
Capirossi's team-mate Chris Vermeulen continued his good run of form - which has seen him take two podiums in the last two races - with sixth position, just over a second behind fastest man and reigning world champion Casey Stoner.
"I really enjoy it here and it was great to get back on the bike because the last week or so I've started to get itchy feet," said Chris who, unlike Capirossi, felt comfortable straight away. "The bike worked well straight out of the crate and we used the base setting that we have had success with at the last couple of races. We are working on a few modifications and doing some longer runs on the tyres to test the durability on the new surface. It seems to be going really well and we have a couple more things to work on tomorrow. I'm quite looking forward to the weekend and just hope the weather stays good."
"Chris has also been on the pace all day, he's been consistently quick and able to maintain a very good lap-time - even on tyres that have done more than race distance," stated Denning. "I think he's still got a bit more left in him and his crew will be looking to make the job easier with a few detailed changes to the bike overnight.
"The front two guys [Stoner and Rossi] - as in Laguna - are a bit ahead, but the rest of the field is very close and we will need to keep our focus to stay in the fight for the podium positions."
The new surface at Brno left the two MotoGP tyre manufacturers with limited data prior to this weekend, but Bridgestone emerged from free practice with nine bikes in the top ten.
"Bridgestone has done a fabulous job to prepare tyres for this completely new surface," said Denning. "We expected some abrasion problems with the front, but this is now reasonably well under control and the rear tyre is working very well and very consistently."
John Hopkins finished second for Suzuki at Brno last season.