Valentino Rossi, who missed yesterday's pre-event press with an upset stomach, finished first qualifying at Motegi runner-up to Sete Gibernau - the Italian requiring his very last lap to lift him from the bottom of the top ten and back into contention.

"We have a few problems on the bike but nothing that we can't get right for tomorrow," declared an upbeat Rossi. "In the braking we need to do some work. When I brake the front goes too far down and the back is very light. And in braking the bike always goes right sideways - not sure why! I just don't have full control in the braking. We also need more edge grip in places on the track. Anyway - we have tomorrow and we go for the lap time at the end!"

Rossi will be attempting to win his second GP at Motegi on Sunday and should Gibernau not finish, the 24-year-old could secure his fifth world title with three rounds remaining.

Meanwhile, Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden returned to Motegi where, nearly a year ago, he gingerly rode the RC211V for the first time in preparation for his rookie year in MotoGP, after having secured the 2002 AMA Superbike Title.

This morning, with 12 GP's under his belt and mounting confidence, the 22-year-old posted the eighth fastest time ahead of many seasoned Motegi campaigners. He ran one bike in the first session with the louder, straight through exhaust system and one bike without. This afternoon, both bikes were fitted with the system that nearly all the top HRC runners are using.

In this afternoon's first qualifying session the American sprinted out of the blocks, immediately posting a time seven tenths of a second quicker than his morning's time. At the half way point of the session he held third place behind Rossi and Biaggi but was bumped down the leader board as many of the field fitted softer qualifying compound tyres which Hayden's team will be saving for tomorrow's critical second qualifying session.

"Not too bad for the first day. We made a bit of progress and I'm sure we have some more comin' tomorrow," said Nicky. "We ran what I would say was pretty much race set-up and got some good consistent times. I feel pretty good on the track. I have been here once before but the conditions were real bad so was not much good for data and was my first time on the bike anyway. At least I knew which way the track goes which makes a change.

"We're also runnin' the noisier pipes which make the engine feel a little stronger. It'll also be good in the race as I'll hear my bike over the other nosier ones that'll be good," he added.



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