Casey Stoner says it came as no surprise to him that Valentino Rossi was immediately on the pace on his return from injury at the Sachsenring today, and expects the champion to get quicker and quicker as the weekend goes on.
Rossi was matching the frontrunners' times from the start of practice today, and although he dropped back to seventh as others made bigger gains in the final minutes, he was still within 0.7sec of the pace despite a six-week absence since his leg-breaking crash at Mugello.
Stoner admitted that initially he had been taken aback by news that Rossi would be back having missed just four races, but reflected that modern medical techniques meant riders could now return quicker.
"When I first heard about Valentino coming back, I thought, 'Wow, that's fast, that's early,'" Stoner told reporters in Germany. "Then I thought about how fast people come back when they break bones, and I've seen people – [Noriyuki] Haga for one – come back and be very competitive after a completely broken collarbone, come back with it plated and not have too many issues.
"By the sounds of it, Valentino said yesterday that he's got a little bit more trouble with his shoulder still, and we know that muscular problems can be a lot worse than bone issues. All it would be for Valentino is building up the muscles in the leg again, healing the scar tissue, and I think this would be his worst problem. For sure he did a little bit better than I expected him to, but he knows how to go fast at this track."
Stoner also reckoned the nature of the Sachsenring track made this an ideal location for Rossi's comeback.
"He doesn't have a lot of pressure on the body for a lot of the circuit, it's the only the last part where maybe he feels it's getting difficult," he said. "I felt the same last year when I was exhausted – the first part of the track was pretty easy, the last part really took it out of me."
The Ducati rider did not rule out the possibility of Rossi being a factor in the lead battle by Sunday.
"I think we could see Valentino improve over these next two days and possibly be up there fighting at the front again," Stoner said. "I have no idea [how he will fare] yet, we'll see what he can do. But he should improve on what he did today."