Dani Pedrosa set the fastest time under extreme heat in Friday's MotoGP practice on top of the mountain -- the setting for Twin Ring Motegi -- home of the Japanese Grand Prix. The 15th round of competition saw the Repsol Honda rider lay down a lap of 1:47.865, taking the top of the speed charts in both of today's practices.
The top time in practice was a positive follow-up to Repsol Honda's announcement that Pedrosa had signed to continue with the team through the 2009 season. The team stated that it had not made a decision on tires for 2008, but Pedrosa is continuing to push for a switch from Michelin to Bridgestone. Today, though, the Michelins were working well.
"I am very happy to have signed for Honda again today," the Catalan rider said. "I hope we can continue this weekend in the positive way we have started."
Landing second for the day was Kawasaki Racing Team's Randy de Puniet: clocked at 1:48.254, the Frenchman was nearly four-tenths off the pace of Pedrosa on the three-mile road course -- a strong opening bid by the Kawasaki works team.
Marco Melandri set his best lap at 1:48.351 for Gresini Honda, a mere 0.097 seconds adrift of the Kawasaki. The gaps between the top riders are close as usual in Japan, with the Italian only 0.097 off of de Puniet and under five-tenths behind Pedrosa.
"I'm also happy with our choice of tyres," Melandri said -- on Bridgestone rubber, like de Puniet. "we've worked well with Bridgestone today and I hope to make another small step forward with my race pace tomorrow.
Next on Friday's combined practice leaderboard, and on the final front-row starting spot -- were the times to translate to a grid -- was American John Hopkins, the Rizla Suzuki rider notching his best lap at 1:48.361, just missing third fastest by a hundredth of a second.
"The day went pretty good straight away as the Bridgestone tyres worked really well," Hopkins said. "We've had a play around with a couple of things including the suspension, but we haven't had to do a whole lot of set up because it all seemed to work well right out of the box."
Current points leader Casey Stoner was back in fifth, with a time of 1:48.444, nearly six-tenths adrift of Pedrosa, the Australian struggling with getting his bike set up correctly for the track. The Ducati rider can shrug off the initial practice times, though, knowing he has a points cushion over his key rival, Valentino Rossi.
"I'm a bit disappointed with today because we couldn't find a good set-up and we just went around in circles," he explained. "This afternoon we tried something with the chassis but it didn't work and we didn't have enough time to go back to the same settings we had this morning, so we spent a lot of time making a lot of changes and it definitely wasn't a great day."
Rossi, who needs to finish the race ahead of Stoner to keep the championship battle alive, started the day reasonably well, fifth in the first practice session, though that was still behind Stoner. However, his Yamaha engine went south early in the second session, forcing the five-time champion to finish the practice on his backup bike.
"We're a long way behind because unfortunately we were following different set-ups with my two bikes and the one that was working better had a technical problem," Il Dottore explained. "On my second bike, with the different setting, I wasn't able to improve and so here I am in 14th."
Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix is tomorrow afternoon Japanese time.