After seven races without a top six finish, Colin Edwards made a stunning return to form by leading Friday free practice at a scorching Sepang in Malaysia.
The American, who was fourth quickest in the morning session, hit the top on his very final lap of an afternoon session briefly interrupted by rain. Edwards edged out newly crowned six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi by 0.171sec, but was just 0.026sec clear of the Italian's morning best.
In air temperatures that peaked at 32 degrees, Edwards' pace was fuelled by a decision to revert back to a front-end setting he had used at the beginning of the season.
The modification proved an immediate success, improving Edwards' confidence and helping him drastically improve his corner speed around the long and technically challenging Sepang circuit.
"It feels really good to be back at the front because the last few races have been tough," confessed Colin. "We have gone back to a front-end setting that I started the year on and it has transformed the bike and I've got my confidence back.
"We made a change at the Le Mans test with the offset and I started to have the best results of my career on tracks where I'd struggled before. I was fifth in Mugello and Catalunya, fourth in Donington and then I got on the podium in Assen, so I thought it was definitely the direction to go. I thought we'd stumbled on the magic setting, but since then I've struggled with the front-end. I have not been able to carry the corner speed I'd like and I've been running wide a lot.
"But now I've changed the front back to what I've known for most of my Yamaha career, it feels fantastic. Now the bike isn't pushing off line at maximum lean angle and the riding just feels natural. Before it felt like I had to really force the front down in the corner to get the bike steering. Now I know exactly what the front tyre is doing and for me that is crucial because my style means I rely on front-end feel so much.
"I'm running out of time to learn things at this stage of my career, but I've learned that I need to stick with what I know works," he declared. "Michelin have got some good tyres here and my race pace is really consistent. Even when the grip was dropping off a bit I was still able to run the lap times. There were a few drops of rain around but I felt confident to push, and its been a long time since I've felt like that.”
Rookie team-mate James Toseland, who rode an M1 for the first time during testing at Sepang last November before retuning again in January, was 13th quickest after failing to improve in the afternoon session.
"This track is so long and technical that it took a bit of time to get back into the swing of things and the test in January seemed like a long time ago," said the Briton. "I felt pretty comfortable this morning but we never really moved forward with the setting this afternoon and that is a bit frustrating. We have got an idea on how to improve the bike for tomorrow because I'm struggling on corner exit.
"When I'm mid-corner and getting on the throttle, I'm struggling with some feel from the rear to get off the corner. At a track like this where there are a few bumps it is making it feel as twice as bad. There are also a lot of corners where you accelerate from slow speed, so rear feeling is crucial. I can do high 2.03s and I'm about three-quarters-of-a-second off the best race pace, so it has not been a disastrous day."