After lapping a highly encouraging fourth-quickest on the opening day of pre-season 2011 MotoGP testing at Sepang, a 'happy' Marco Simoncelli declared that proceedings could scarcely have gone any better - and pronounced that his 'difficult first outing' at the Malaysian circuit twelve months earlier is now 'a distant memory'.

As he prepared to make his bow in the premier class in 2010, Simoncelli endured a real baptism of fire as he suffered two hefty high-side accidents at Sepang in the space of three weeks, with the second crash so severe as to crack his helmet and leave the Italian dazed and confused.

With the setback denting his confidence, it was the second half of the campaign before the former 250cc World Champion would truly regain the kind of form most had anticipated of him and began to live up to his 'dark horse' pre-season billing - but four top six finishes from the final five outings left him well-placed to come out of the blocks fighting in 2011, momentum that has palpably been maintained.

"I am really happy," the 24-year-old acknowledged after lapping just over seven tenths of a second shy of Casey Stoner's benchmark at the end of 52 laps during which he established a strong initial feeling with the new RC212V. "My difficult first outing at this circuit last year is now a distant memory.

"I felt good straightaway with the new RC212V, and I was immediately able to push hard. I was consistent all day, and that is very positive. We tried a new position for the rear brake lever on one of the two bikes, and we will try a new system tomorrow. Obviously the goal is also to keep working on the setting to try and improve the feeling with the 2011 version, although the first impression is that it is fast, powerful and performing well. We couldn't have started out any better!"

Unlike Simoncelli, San Carlo Honda Gresini team-mate and fellow MotoGP sophomore Hiroshi Aoyama is a fan of the Sepang International Circuit, and the motivated and determined Japanese ace quickly got comfortable with both the new-spec RC212V as well as his crew, headed by the vastly-experienced Antonio Jimenez.

"It is always difficult to get back on the bike after a two-month break, but I have to say that today went well," remarked the 29-year-old after lapping just under two tenths further adrift, placing him seventh in the 20-rider pecking order. "The bike has shown good power, good acceleration and a character that allows you to be decisive. I have already got a good feeling with the guys, and that is one of our main objectives for this test.

"Tomorrow, we will continue to work on the set-up and try to improve it again. It has been a positive first day and it has made me optimistic for the season ahead, because I want to make up for lost time in 2010, when I missed six races through injury."

"I am particularly satisfied for the riders, the guys in the team and our long-term sponsors San Carlo, who continue to support our project with such passion," concluded team manager Fausto Gresini. "We knew that Simoncelli would come out and confirm the progress he showed in the last few races of last season, and he did just that.

"In fact, I have to say that so far things have exceeded expectations. He is finding it easy to run with the best in the class, and that gives me a lot of pride. I am also happy for Aoyama, who has found a splendid feeling with his crew and has already shown great potential."



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