Valentino Rossi made a stunning return to MotoGP action in Germany this afternoon, the nine-times world champion ending opening practice at the Sachsenring in seventh position.
Just 41 days after suffering a compound fracture of his right leg in a horror high-side crash during practice for his home race at Mugello, Rossi made a remarkable comeback in front of a big Friday crowd at the Sachsenring.
The 31-year-old was only cleared to ride his factory Yamaha YZR-M1 machine yesterday.
But fears that his damaged leg would be too restrictive and weak and his fitness way short of 100 per cent were quickly ended as Rossi made a stunning start to the session.
For large parts of the opening hour-long session, Rossi was in the top four and less than two-tenths off the pace.
He eventually ended with a best time of 1.23.244 to finish 0.723s off Dani Pedrosa’s best pace.
But he was less than three-hundredths-of-a-second behind Ben Spies on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1 machine in fourth place.
Rossi, who tested a factory spec Yamaha R1 World Superbike in Misano and Brno before his much hyped return, said: “I feel quite good on the bike and this is the most important thing.
"I have to say this track helps me quite a lot because it has a lot of left hand corners, so it is a good track to return. When I’m on the left corner I don’t have a big problem.
"I have more of a problem on the right turns but my leg is good. I have some pain but I can move on the bike and ride like I want. I feel also better than with the superbike because my M1 is more comfortable for my riding position and I’m very happy about the shoulder.
"I’ve worked a lot in this period and I have a lot less pain compared to Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello. This is so important because my shoulder gave me a lot of problem with riding.
"We have to wait to after the practice of today to see if the leg swells. The only question mark now is whether I can do 30-laps in a row on Sunday.”
Rossi told MCN that his main issue with right-hand turns was the lack of movement in his right leg.
He said: “When I go in the right corners I have to move my foot backwards for a different position on the footpeg and this movement gives me quite a lot of pain.
"The rear muscles in the leg are not at 100 per cent so I have pain to move the foot backwards after the entry to the corner.
"My knee suffers quite a lot when it stays bent. But I’m also happy because since Monday in Brno I feel better and we have improved.”
Sunday’s eighth round of the 2010 world championship though will be run over 30-laps and the longest run Rossi completed today was ten laps.
But he remains confident that he can be competitive and added: “I don’t know exactly about the race but for sure I have to suffer a little bit on Sunday. But maybe I can be quite competitive for the whole race.
"We improve also the bike because we try an easier bike for me to ride and it is better and also in the electronics we improve some setting. We have changed the suspension to have more agility.
"We modified a little bit the rear brake position to make it softer because I don’t have 100 per cent strength and the level is a little bit lower without 100 per cent movement.”
Rossi said his impressive lap times and confidence on board his factory YZR-M1 had been a welcome surprise.
When asked about whether he was surprised to have figured so close to the top of the timesheets, he said: “Yes I’m surprised. I think because after the crash it was all going well from the surgery through all the period at home.
"I had a lot of good people that helped me improve my condition and I worked five or six hours everyday to be fit but it is a big surprise to be in this shape.”