Valentino Rossi produced a remarkable comeback to MotoGP this afternoon after the reigning world champion ended opening practice at the Sachsenring in seventh position.
Back on his factory Yamaha YZR-M1 machine just 41 days after suffering a compound fracture in his right leg during practice at Mugello, the Italian produced a stunning return and was running in the top three for much of the opening session.
Rossi was only passed fit to return four weeks ahead of schedule in Germany yesterday and hobbled to his Fiat Yamaha machine on one crutch during this afternoon’s sun drenched opening practice session.
The 31-year-old, who is riding using specially modified Dainese leathers and a new bigger right boot, was rarely outside the top six in a session that saw Spaniard Dani Pedrosa end up with the quickest time on his Repsol Honda RC212V machine.
All eyes though were on Rossi as the nine-times world champion returned having missed the last four races with the broken right leg he suffered in a massive practice high-side crash at Mugello in early June.
Rossi started the session with a ten-lap run and found himself in the top three with just 20 minutes remaining. A best lap of 1.23.269 at that stage left him just 0.120s off Casey Stoner, who was fastest at that point on board his factory Ducati GP10.
Rossi, who didn’t finish off the podium in 2010 before suffering the worst injury of his career, clocked his best time of 1.23.244 on his 29th and final lap to finish 0.723s behind Pedrosa.
But he was just over five-hundredths-of-a-second away from Ben Spies in fourth place.
Pedrosa drew first blood though in punishing temperatures with a best time of 1.22.521 coming on his final lap.
The triple world champion first moved to the top of the timesheets with 11 minutes remaining and then enjoyed an exciting duel for top spot with HRC-bound Aussie Stoner.
Pedrosa won the battle with his time edging out Stoner by 0.274s.
Factory Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden was struggling outside the top ten until the closing stages when he suddenly surged up the leaderboard.
Less than a minute remained when he logged a time of 1.22.983 to secure third spot as he chases a first podium of the season.
Had it not been for Rossi’s impressive return then performance of the day would have gone to Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Spies.
The Texan slowly built up his confidence on his first visit to the tight and twisty Sachsenring and recovered after an early off track excursion on his YZR-M1 machine.
Five minutes were left on the clock when he set a best time of 1.23.189 to finish fourth.
He was only 0.206s behind Hayden with Marco Simoncelli showing signs of his growing confidence too. The Italian was fifth fastest with a best lap of 1.23.204 that beat runaway world championship leader Jorge Lorenzo by just 0.020s.
Lorenzo, who has won the last three races and not finished outside of the top two all season, was a lowly sixth.
The Spaniard, who holds a commanding 52-point lead over Pedrosa in the title hunt, ended with a best time of 1.23.224.