Reigning six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi will have to work hard to overcome the predicted challenge of Casey Stoner at this weekend's Qatar season-opener, but warned that 'tests mean nothing' and insists he has 'a few cards to play'.
While Rossi is undoubtedly the title favourite heading into the new season, victory at Qatar is a far tougher prospect, on paper at least. The Italian claimed his worst race finish of the 2008 season with fifth at Losail, on his Bridgestone debut, and has won only twice from five Losail visits.
Rossi's most recent Qatar victory was in 2006, and he was only third fastest in the 2009 Qatar pre-season test, over one second behind Stoner's Ducati. Stoner has won the last two Qatar MotoGP races.
Surprisingly, Rossi was also outpaced by Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, now using the same Bridgetsone/M1 technical package, at the night test - but remains defiant.
“Qatar isn't one of our strongest tracks but we still have a few cards to play and I hope that a little more work will see us improve for the first race,” he said. “Tests really mean nothing once you get to racing, the situation is totally different and really we have little idea what will happen until we get there, it's very exciting!
“I'm feeling confident, we're in good shape even if we're going to what was our worst track during testing, but I am happy about the performance of my M1 in general; Yamaha have done a great job and so this makes me happy.”
“Valentino has been strong during testing and we're not worried about Qatar, we still have some things to try and we're confident we will be fast enough to challenge there,” insisted team manager Davide Brivio.
Stoner, the 2007 world champion and Rossi's closest 2008 rival, was able to outpace the Italian at all three pre-season tests, but Rossi is the master of race day battles and is interested to see how the new single-tyre rule will influence tactics.
“With the new single tyre rule the tactics will become clearer race by race,” he commented. “I think a lot of new factors will come into play and strategy is going to be quite important to determine where you start the race. I think luck will also be a factor in qualifying, more so than previously! In fact, I am quite curious to see what will happen in a 45 minute race with so few tyres, it's going to be interesting."