Valentino Rossi finished the first day of a potentially historic weekend in front of his home fans at Misano with second position on the free practice timesheets, but once again needs to close a near half-second gap to title rival Casey Stoner.
Rossi - who has the potential to equal Giacomo Agostini's premier-class record of 68 victories on Sunday, and a chance of claiming Italy's 700th GP win - was fifth quickest in morning practice, over one second from Stoner, before set-up changes allowed the Fiat Yamaha star to claw back almost 0.6secs from his Australian opponent by the end of the afternoon hour.
Nevertheless Rossi, whose presence has prompted mistakes from Stoner at the past two rounds, had hoped to be on more equal terms with the Ducati rider - and is also glancing over his shoulder at the likes of Loris Capirossi, just 0.153secs behind Rossi on Friday.
"We made quite a good start today but not as good as we could have hoped, so we still have some work to do in order to close the gap to Casey," said the world championship leader, speaking before it was revealed that Stoner has re-opened an old wrist injury. "At the moment the main problem is T4, where I am quite slow and so we really need to look at the data and work out why.
"Anyway we're still second so we're close, but I hope tomorrow to be closer because it seems that everyone is quite competitive here so we're going to have to work hard. We have some ideas and we will see what we can do."
Misano is just 15km north of Rossi's home town of Tavullia and the local hero is keen to delight his hordes of fans - especially after last year's Misano nightmare, when his pneumatic M1 broke down after just five laps.
"It's great to be racing in the sunshine so close to my home, on the track which was the first one I ever rode on, and I really hope we can make it a fantastic weekend for all of the fans," said Rossi, who will start the race 50 points clear of 2007 winner Stoner.
"For the first day it hasn't been so bad and we're in quite good shape. It's clear that there are some areas in which we can and need to improve, so now we will use the information we have gathered today to work on those areas and refine our set up," added team manager Davide Brivio. "We have worked through a few different things today on the setting and we have also tried some different tyres, and we're confident that we have good potential."
Rossi's Michelin shod team-mate Jorge Lorenzo finishing seventh in the combined standings.