Casey Stoner indicated that he won't surrender his MotoGP World Championship to Valentino Rossi on Sunday without a fight, by being fastest of all during Friday practice at Motegi in Japan.
Due to wet weather this morning, all the fastest lap times were set in the dry afternoon session, during which the Ducati star demoted Honda's Dani Pedrosa from the head of the timesheets heading into the final 15 minutes - then held on by just 0.073secs over the Spaniard.
But Valentino Rossi, who needs to finish third or better to wrap up the 2008 world championship even if Stoner wins on Sunday, remained on target with a close third position - the Fiat Yamaha star lapping 0.316secs from Pedrosa and 0.260secs in front of rookie Andrea Dovizioso.
Dovizioso, expected to be officially announced as a 2009 Repsol Honda rider this weekend, was the top Michelin rider at Bridgestone's home circuit, with Loris Capirossi providing Suzuki with a welcome boost by claiming fifth position – just 0.009secs behind his fellow Italian.
Sylvain Guintoli, who looks to be starting his final four races as a MotoGP rider, was a fraction slower in seventh for Alice Ducati while Nicky Hayden, fastest in the wet morning session at the start of his final Japanese Grand Prix weekend for Honda, was a mere 0.006secs slower in seventh.
Stoner's team-mate Marco Melandri enjoyed a promising first day with eighth position, while Toni Elias - who will also switch to Japanese machinery next season - was ninth on the second satellite Desmosedici.
LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet, riding with an injured wrist, completed a close top ten covered by just over one second.
Shinya Nakano was the top home rider in eleventh on his factory-spec Gresini Honda, with John Hopkins placing his Kawasaki ZX-RR twelfth.
Whilst Rossi was at the sharp end, the three Michelin-shod M1s struggled - Colin Edwards (Tech 3), James Toseland (Tech 3) and Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat) sitting just 13th, 14th and 15th.
Chris Vermeulen was unable to replicate Capirossi's pace and finished day one in 16th position, ahead of only Anthony West (Kawasaki), Alex de Angelis (Gresini) and Suzuki wild-card Kousuke Akiyoshi.
Akiyoshi, competing in his first grand prix of the season, was 0.7secs slower than de Angelis and 2.738secs behind Stoner.
Friday practice (2):
10. de Puniet
18. de Angelis