17th in his three previous races since returning as a replacement at Petronas and now Monster Yamaha, factory test rider Cal Crutchlow proved he can still pull-out a hot lap to compete with MotoGP's best during Friday practice at Aragon.

Twelfth (+1.6s) in the morning session, the Englishman shot to second (+0.284s) behind Jack Miller in in the closing stages of the afternoon, punching the air as if he had just added to the four poles and 19 podiums from his full-time career.

Aleix Espargaro nudged Crutchlow back to third, but it was still overwhelmingly the Englishman's best performance since his unexpected mid-season comeback.

"I wasn't surprised by the lap I did after that first sector. I knew that first sector was already a good one for me," Crutchlow said. "It was nice to do that lap. I haven't pushed and done a lap like that all year, so it was about time to try and do one – and I did.

"We had a good day today. It was nice to be able to get up there on the timesheets, but I don't care about the position. Of course, we want to go fast, but it's more about giving information about how I feel with the bike.

"I tried a few new things today. As a test rider, that‘s my job. It was good to go fast and push the bike to my limit."

"The old fella still goes alright!" said Crutchlow's good friend Miller. "I think he did pretty good. He's getting his feedback, getting more comfortable and it shows that that Yamaha is working pretty well."

"Cal enjoyed himself out on track today. He is quite comfortable with the bike overall. For him to secure a top-3 result after so few laps aboard the Factory Yamaha at a circuit that's not our strongest is actually very impressive," added Monster Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli.

"We see this as a positive sign and confirmation that our overall package is strong."

Aragon could well be Crutchlow's last race appearance of the season, with Franco Morbidelli - Maverick Vinales' full time replacement - planning a return from injury next week at Misano and Crutchlow needed for testing duties with the 2022 M1.

"The data he is gathering here this weekend is also very useful for when he will be riding in Aragon again in two weeks‘ time as part of our official Yamaha Factory Racing Test Team," Meregalli confirmed.

World championship leader Fabio Quartararo was the next best Yamaha rider after Crutchlow in seventh place.