Repsol Honda riders Alex Barros and Nicky Hayden finished the first day of the team's most important race of the year, the Japanese Grand Prix, seventh and eighth fastest respectively.

It wasn't exactly the sort of results the factory team would expect in front of the HRC bosses, but with Barros having run off track on his fastest lap and Hayden making his return from injury things aren't as bad as they may appear.

"Not too bad for the first day," summarised Alex. "I made a small mistake in the qualifying lap and ran off the track and recovered but I know we can go faster. I think we have a pretty good set-up for the race conditions; we need to concentrate more on getting the set-up for a better lap time for the qualification. We haven't tested all the tyres yet and have a lot more work to do tomorrow but I'm generally reasonably satisfied with the first days work."

Hayden was back in action today for the first time since he fell from a Honda CRF450 breaking his collarbone and damaging knee ligaments less than three weeks ago. The 23-year-old sat out the last GP in Estoril and returned to riding his RC211V today - on the road to recovery, but definitely not 100% fit.

The bars and pegs had been adjusted to make it easier for the American to get as comfy as possible; the circuit, with its stop and go nature, being particularly hard on those not fully fit with particular strains being put on the arms under heavy braking.

"It's good to get the first day out of the way," began Nicky. "I've got to thank to Dr Costa and his crew for helping me to get out there. Coming into this weekend I wasn't even sure if I was going to ride. The knee is pretty uncomfortable on left handers and his crew really helped a lot to loosen things up and make it a little easier this afternoon. Today I've really just been trying to get back in the groove."

Dr Costa (who pinned and plated the collarbone) and his team helped Hayden loosen up and this afternoon he leapt from 16th fastest to fourth after putting his qualifying tyres to good use. As the pace hotted up he slipped to eight and ended the day tired but encouraged.

"This afternoon definitely felt better than this morning and I have to be pretty happy with eighth fastest. Hopefully will be feeling looser tomorrow and things will be easier," said the Kentuckian.