Helio Castroneves snatched the top spot away from Graham Rahal in the closing moments of Friday morning practice for the IndyCar Series' Motegi round.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Rahal - in his first appearance at the Japanese track and his team's first run there since 2002 - had first moved ahead of early pacesetters Justin Wilson and Danice Patrick just over half an hour into the session. He was only in front for a few minutes before championship leader Ryan Briscoe (Penske) usurped him, with the Penske driver then staying on top until the final runs.
Rahal remained in the top three throughout, and then delivered a 27.3437s lap to reclaim first position with five minutes to go. That looked set to secure first place for Rahal until Castroneves (Penske) pipped him by 0.0101s in the final minute.
Briscoe held on to third, with his main title rival Scott Dixon fifth for Ganassi, behind Panther's Dan Wheldon.
KV driver Mario Moraes followed up his breakthrough Chicagoland podium with sixth this morning, ahead of last year's winner Danica Patrick (Andretti Green) and Luczo Dragon's Raphael Matos. The Brazilian looks set to move closer to the rookie title this weekend as his main rival Robert Doornbos' HVM team is again struggling for oval pace.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Foyt) and Oriol Servia - who is starting the last event of his current Newman/Haas/Lanigan stint before Alex Lloyd takes the car for Homestead - completed the top 10 ahead of title contender Dario Franchitti (Target-Chip Ganassi Racing).
Kosuke Matsuura was the best of the returnees in 17th for Conquest, with fellow Japanese-born guest driver Roger Yasukawa 21st for Dreyer & Reinbold. Stanton Barrett propped up the order on his return to the 3G car.
The session was only interrupted once for a track inspection, and took place in bright and sunny conditions with no sign of the rain that has so often blighted Motegi events.