Casey Stoner believes his potential in Sunday’s Sepang MotoGP race will be solely determined by how his recovering right ankle and his fitness will cope with the extreme heat and humidity in Malaysia.
The Australian finished a rain-hit first practice having set the second quickest time with an impressive lap of 2.01.773.
That put Stoner just 0.152s behind Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa but a lack of strength and mobility in his right ankle is still the biggest handicap for Stoner ahead of Sunday’s race.
The 20-lap race will be a gruelling examination of Stoner’s physical state. But at least he said today he felt much more comfortable on his factory RC213V than he did last weekend at the Twin Ring Motegi.
He told MCN: “I feel more comfortable here than in Japan. Whether it is just time on the bike or the fact that this track isn't quite so critical on my right leg I’m not sure.
"This circuit goes to the right quite a bit, but there are not as many slow corners where I need to pick it up from. The lap times came a lot easier here. But there is no doubt it is going to be very, very tough physically for me.
"I haven't been able to train properly. I haven't even been able to go swimming in case I twist my ankle. Endurance wise it will be very tough, as tough if not worse than Japan. But maybe with time on the bike I'll be a little more comfortable in the middle part of the race."
Stoner once again admitted that the recovery from the serious ligament damage he suffered in his right ankle in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis is taking much longer to heal than the 27-year-old had anticipated.
He said: “It is only improving by tiny bits. It is not day-by-day but week-by-week. It takes a long time to get anywhere with it and it is not healing as fast as I expected. I won't really know how it is until we have finished a tough day tomorrow.”
Stoner said he is not experiencing too much pain in the ankle, but mobility is the biggest restriction.
“It depends what motion I have to do on track. To a certain degree there’s pain but mainly it is movement that is the problem. I can't ride like I want to and physically my upper body has to do more work.
"Between races and a session overnight I thought it would improve and get a little more movement but it hasn't been the case. I don't have any better feeling than Japan," said Stoner, who will retire from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 campaign.