Valentino Rossi believes Casey Stoner will be his key rival for victory on Sunday, despite his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo leading the world championship following his win in Motegi last weekend.
The eight-time world champion was fastest in first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, while the Australian was third quickest six tenths behind. The pair were split by Suzuki's Loris Capirossi.
"It is early to say, for sure, it is possible for everybody to improve," Rossi said on Friday. "I think Stoner remains the main rival, but Loris is not normally very fast on Friday, so he, for me, looks to be coming strong for Sunday.
"I was also surprised by Dani (Pedrosa), who is normally fast here but today was quite slow (10th) so... for me the strongest remains Stoner for Sunday."
Rossi explained that changes to the fork settings had revitalized his factory Yamaha M1 and boosted his confidence ahead of a race he counts as one of his favorites.
"Today was very good," he said. "I am so happy because in the first two races we had some problems with the front, the balance of my bike was not 100 per cent, like last year. Today we made some modifications with the settings and it looks like they work. I was able to enter the corner better and I am able to use these tires better.
"We have to improve again for tomorrow, especially the rear grip, but I am very fast so I am happy.
"We are fast today because the modifications work well so it is possible to push hard from the beginning. For sure it is very important to stay in front from the first lap, like usually Stoner does."
Rossi's Friday pace was enough for him to concede he is focussed on scoring his first victory of the year on Sunday: "Yes, the target is that one for sure and we have to try because this racetrack is fantastic for me. I like it a lot.
"It looks like we have a good weekend with the weather, so it is possible to improve the setting," he added. "In Motegi with the weather we had two or three mistake. Now we are more confident with the bike so now we are more confident for sure."
Speaking of the sunny weather forecast, the opposite of which has so badly compromised proceedings in the first two races of the season Rossi said: "This situation compared to the first two races is like paradise when you ride the bike.
"If it is possible to decide then maybe it is better to have five degrees less than today, but anyway, we are everybody with the same tires, so we will see."