Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner returned from the summer break with the same speed he’d shown before it began. Four weeks after losing out to Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi in the epic battle of Laguna Seca, Stoner edged his championship rival by .179 of a second after the first day of practice for Sunday’s Czech Grand Prix in Brno. Stoner lapped the recently resurfaced circuit in the eastern Czech Republic with a time of 1:57.231. The lap is more than a second off the circuit best lap of 1:56.191 set by Rossi in 2006. The pair was well clear of the rest of the field, with Rossi having nearly .6 of a second on fellow countryman Loris Capirossi, who put the Rizla Suzuki in third. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Shinya Nakano made it four brands among the top four. Nakano’s teammate Alex de Angelis was next, the satellite team overshadowing the factory team. Five weeks removed from breaking his left wrist in the German Grand Prix, Dani Pedrosa could only manage the 16th fastest time out of the 17 riders. Teammate Nicky Hayden is sitting out Brno with a heel injury suffered during practice for the X Games in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen set the sixth fastest time, .210 of a second faster than seventh fastest Colin Edwards (Tech 3 Yamaha). Kawasaki’s John Hopkins returned to action for the first time since breaking his lower leg, and suffering other injuries, in a June 27 qualifying crash for the Dutch TT. Hopkins finished Friday with the eighth fastest time. Friday Combined Practice: 1. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 1:57.231 2. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:57.410 3. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) 1:58.000 4. Shinya Nakano (Honda) 1:58.228 5. Alex de Angelis (Honda) 1:58.264 6. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) 1:58.462 7. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 1:58.672 8. John Hopkins (Kawasaki) 1:58.830 9. Toni Elias (Ducati) 1:58.881 10. Sylvain Guintoli (Ducati) 1:58.923 11. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:58.977 12. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 1:59.094 13. James Toseland (Yamaha) 1:59.328 14. Randy de Puniet (Honda) 1:59.405 15. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 1:59.943 16. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 2:00.540 17. Anthony West (Kawasaki) 2:00.621

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By Cycle News Staff

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