The reigning world champion, yet to finish higher than seventh this year and a faller on race day at Donington, was third fastest in both sessions to finish 0.286secs behind current MotoGP World Championship leader Casey Stoner.

"I really like the Assen track and things went relatively smoothly today with no major dramas. The package we've got with the RC212V works pretty well here straight out of the box and we're not too far away from getting a pretty good dry race set-up," said Hayden, his words in stark contrast to the dire set-up difficulties suffered earlier in the season. "Tyre choice is going to be really important of course and we tried to put in as many laps as we could in today's two sessions because the weather looks really bad for tomorrow. We might catch a break on Saturday for the race though, and it might be dry. It's been a decent start to the weekend and we'll look at the data we gathered today and hopefully we can sweeten the machine up a little bit more. I enjoyed riding out there today so we've just got to keep the momentum going."

Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa also made a promising start to the weekend, setting a lap time good enough for fifth place overall and only 0.393secs back from the top. The 21-year-old Spaniard looked on course to climb higher still until the ultimate sector of his last lap in the afternoon, when a mistake at the final chicane cost him precious tenths.

"The RC212V feels quite good here and not really too different to the 990cc machine from last year - you notice the power is lower, but not too much, and the lap times are already pretty close," highlighted Dani. "The practice sessions went reasonably well and I made a fair improvement from the morning to the afternoon. However, I made some mistakes in the afternoon session which lost me some time and so my final lap times were not as fast as they should have been really. We'll continue to make adjustments to the machine tonight and come ready for whatever the weather gives us for tomorrow's sessions."

"Both riders are quite near the top again today which is a good start for the team," declared team manager Makoto Tanaka. "Nicky was consistently quick today and he's brought the speed he showed in practice at Donington to Assen and his performance level is continuing to rise. He is the top rider on Michelin tyres today which can only help to increase his confidence still further. The times here are close, especially as this is a longer lap than at Donington and some of our rivals are looking very competitive, so we cannot relax for a moment. Dani is also looking quite good here and I think he would have been in a higher position at the end of the afternoon session if he had not run off the track at the end of his final lap. The weather looks as though it can change very quickly here so we'll have to be on our toes tomorrow."