Laguna Seca, California: Jorge Lorenzo, winner here last year before going on to clinch the MotoGP world title, was quickest in U.S. Grand Prix practice on Friday to throw down the gauntlet to championship leader Casey Stoner.
While Australian Stoner posted the third fastest time after setting the pace at Laguna Seca in the morning, Spaniard Lorenzo eclipsed his rival with a sizzling display on his Yamaha on a sun-baked but breezy afternoon.
The 24-year-old from Palma, who is bidding for his third win this season, completed 24 laps on the twisting, technically challenging circuit with a best time of one minute, 22.056 seconds.
Spaniard Dani Pedrosa, fresh from victory at last week`s German Grand Prix, was next best on 1:22.197 with Honda`s Stoner, champion here in 2007, third on 1:22.231.
Italian Andrea Dovizioso, also riding a Honda, was fourth on the timesheets with 1:22.537.
Lorenzo trails Stoner by 15 points in the overall standings with nine races left this season, the Australian having been in scintillating form this year with four wins and eight podiums in the first nine races.
However, Lorenzo made up some ground on Stoner when he snatched second place for Yamaha at last week`s German Grand Prix where the pacesetting Australian had to settle for third.
"In the past few races, we have recovered some points on Stoner but we have pushed a lot to do that," the Spaniard told reporters ahead of Sunday`s race at Laguna Seca.
"We must push in every session, and in the race, to gain these points but at least we are there and fighting for the victory."
Stoner, the 2007 MotoGP world champion who has finished on the podium in his last seven races, can be expected to flourish once again on Sunday at one of his favourite venues.
"I love the atmosphere here," the 25-year-old said. "It`s just got something about it, the way the track flows. It`s tricky, it`s got some great points and some very difficult ones ... but in general I`ve always had success and been fast.
"It will be a tough weekend and after the last few we need to step it up a bit more but I`m really looking forward to getting out there."