Casey Stoner is optimistic he can take the fight to Jorge Lorenzo in the Dutch Grand Prix on Saturday after running the championship leader close in practice, but says that given his disastrous start to 2010, a podium finish would be an acceptable result for Ducati.
Yamaha rider Lorenzo only narrowly beat Stoner to the top spot in today's opening session at Assen, with just 0.011sec splitting them at the end of the hour.
"We felt more comfortable again today," said Stoner. "By race day at Silverstone we were feeling a lot better but, unfortunately, we weren't really able to show our potential there. Here everything feels much better. We've got a little bit more feeling with the front end. Struggling a little bit with rear grip now. By the end of the session, we improved the rear grip but then we lost a little bit of the turning.
"So we have to try and find a reasonable balance. But in general every direction we went in today, except one, was an improvement. We just need to get a little bit more comfortable with the settings we've got and see what we're capable of."
The Australian was not yet sure if Ducati would be a match for Yamaha in race trim.
"It's too early on in the weekend [to say]," Stoner said. "We have to really get a better setup than where we are now for the race. But if we can stay more or less on a par with Jorge for the race, then maybe things can be a little different than past weekends."
Having failed to finish on the podium so far in 2010, and languishing eighth in the standings at present, Stoner said he would be satisfied just to get in the top three this weekend.
"We have to just be happy with some podium finishes at the moment and try to get ourselves back up the leader board," he admitted.
His teammate Nicky Hayden was third fastest today. The American was satisfied with his bike but slightly perturbed by the half-second gap to the leaders.
"Everything went relatively smoothly today, for a 'Friday' out of the gate," Hayden said. "On Friday at the last few races – Mugello, Silverstone – I've started way behind.
"The position's not bad. The gap to the front feels like a lot considering that the bike was working pretty good. It's not like there are five or six areas where we're just going to shave half a second, so that's a worry, but not a bad start for a Thursday."