Valentino Rossi is predicting an 'entertaining' end to Sunday's Qatar MotoGP season opener, when he believes tyres will have become heavily worn.
The reigning six-time MotoGP champion will start the 22 lap race from second position, as his so far unsuccessful pursuit of Ducati's Casey Stoner continued in qualifying.
Stoner has won the last two races at Qatar, but Rossi had closed to within 0.094sec in Saturday's final free practice - only for Stoner to rebuild his advantage to a solid 0.473sec over the Italian by the close of qualifying.
Nevertheless, Rossi is closer than might have been expected, while question marks over tyre life on the abrasive surface mean the race result is far from certain.
“I am really happy to be on the front row here because we know that this isn't one of our best tracks,” confessed Rossi, fifth at Qatar last year. “We also knew that Stoner would be strong and, although this is definitely true, we're not too far off and the gap is closing all the time.
“Starting second is going to be very important here because there is a question mark over the tyres on this surface,” he confirmed. “The asphalt is still very dirty which is hard on the tyres and I think that the last few laps are going to be quite entertaining!
“There are a couple of places on the track where we can still be faster so we will have a look at the data and I hope we can make another step in the warm up and fix a couple of small problems.
“There is definitely a question mark over the last six or seven laps though and I think we could be sliding about a bit. Anyway, everyone is in the same position, with the same tyres, and it could make it quite fun; let's wait and see,” he concluded.
“The gap to Stoner is still there but we will try a few more things in the morning to try and close it a bit more, then the rest will be up to Valentino!” added team manager Davide Brivio.
Rossi's Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo will complete the front row line-up after lapping just 0.024sec behind The Doctor.