Valentino Rossi says the Sepang test confirmed that Casey Stoner will once again be his toughest rival in 2009, but the Italian is reserving judgement on Honda's Dani Pedrosa and was surprised by the strength of Suzuki.

Rossi finished the test second fastest to Stoner, although Ducati's 2007 world champion was only 0.094sec quicker than Fiat Yamaha's reigning title holder.

The biggest upset came from Loris Capirossi, who put his Suzuki fastest of all on day one and was a close third by day three, whilst the second GSV-R of Chris Vermeulen was consistently in the top six.

Dani Pedrosa was fourth fastest on day two, but then left the test early due to pain from an injured knee, while Rossi's team-mate and 2008 rookie of the year Jorge Lorenzo recovered from a slow start to claim seventh.

Reflecting on what he had seen at Sepang, Rossi summed up the opposition as follows:

"I think Casey will be the toughest rival and we have to wait and see for Pedrosa, when he is ok. Capirossi is the surprise with the Suzuki and also Vermeulen is good. I think Lorenzo needs some more kilometres, but for the first race will be competitive."

Stoner, making his MotoGP comeback after wrist surgery, was second to Capirossi on day one, then fastest of all on days two and three - despite pain from his wrist restricting him to short bursts of 4-5 laps.

However Rossi, himself riding injured after falling through a glass table shortly before the test, claimed that Stoner's record-breaking lap time indicates that his wrist couldn't have been causing him too much pain.

Stoner's best test lap of 2min 1.043sec, set on race tyres, was half a second quicker than Pedrosa's pole position time in last October's Malaysian Grand Prix.

"Stoner is already very fast. I think that to make this lap time he doesn't have a lot of pain, because if you have a lot of pain and you make this lap time then without pain he could maybe be one and a half seconds faster!" said the Italian. "I don't think that is the reality,"

Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa have filled the top three championship positions during both years of 800cc racing - but while Stoner has taken 16 victories, and Rossi 13, Pedrosa has only won four times.

"I think Dani is fast but Stoner is more strong," Rossi explained. "Dani has to demonstrate... He knows the way to ride the bike, he is competitive, he is good, but he wins less than us. So he needs to improve from this point of view.

"Stoner has been a bit of a surprise since 2007, because before in his career he did not make a lot of great results. But now I think he is my toughest rival," Rossi repeated.

Meanwhile, despite being a six time MotoGP world champion and having won more premier-class races than any other rider in history, Rossi revealed that he has a simple approach to testing.

"I try to be as fast as possible without going over the limit. I try to be very consistent, but to do this I need - like every rider - good tyres and good bike," he said. "At this moment the package I have is competitive."

Rossi also confirmed that development remains focused on maximising the acceleration of his YZR-M1.

The second MotoGP test of 2009 takes place in Qatar from March 1-3.



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