Valentino Rossi believes the 2009 MotoGP championship is building into a four-way fight after Jorge Lorenzo's victory at Motegi.
With Rossi taking second, and Dani Pedrosa shrugging off his injuries to beat Qatar winner Casey Stoner to the final podium spot, the reigning champion thinks the contest is currently wide open.
"It was a good race," said Rossi. "Second place is not a victory but 20 points is important for the championship.
"I think this championship has become very interesting because we have four riders already battling for wins."
Rossi led the Japanese Grand Prix from the start, but struggled for pace at several points - allowing Lorenzo to pass him for the lead, and Pedrosa to briefly take second from him.
"It was a great race - long and difficult, and very physical," said Rossi. "I made a great start in the beginning but at one part of the race I was not able to ride like I wanted.
"I had some problems and I was not able to ride fast enough to pull away. After I lost time from Jorge, I battled a little with Dani.
"But in the last part of the race I was able to pick up my pace and take my line, and do good lap times, and come back. But unfortunately Lorenzo was too far ahead."
The result means that Lorenzo, Rossi and Stoner are covered by three points at the top of the championship table, with Andrea Dovizioso and Pedrosa 19 and 20 points behind Lorenzo respectively.