Colin Edwards will start from fifth on the grid for the fifth race in a row, during Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
But the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider was just 0.026sec from a place on the front row, after working with his crew on improving stability and agility with his YZR-M1 to cope with Phillip Island's fast and flowing sections.
“I can't remember how long I've been racing at this track but it is always a different experience and today was no exception,” said the Texan. “It's no secret that Yamaha had to make the bike much shorter this year to maximise the performance of the Bridgestone tyres, and it hasn't been easy to make the set-up work this weekend.
“With the track flowing like it does you need a stable bike for the fast sections but some agility for turning. But it seems with the shorter wheelbase bike here, a tiny change completely transforms the feeling. My guys have worked unbelievably hard to make me more comfortable and we found something that almost got me on the front row for the first time this year.
“On this track you've really got to take some risks to get a fast time, but you can't do that without having the bike right. At the end I had a setting where the risk was reduced a lot and I could push much harder without feeling like I was right on the limit.”
The 35-year-old is now confident of a strong showing in tomorrow's race to bolster his bid to regain fifth place in the world championship standings.
“I feel we've got a good package for the race,” he said. “I've got three races to take nine points out of Dovizioso for fifth in the championship and he's a few places behind me on the grid [tenth]. I'll just hope the weather smiles on us so I can get my head down and put up a strong fight.”
Team-mate James Toseland didn't find an optimum compromise between front-end stability and rear traction, and will start from twelfth. The Englishman's best lap time was 0.626sec slower than Edwards.
“Once again today we saw just how close the competition is in MotoGP and how small the difference is between having a really strong grid position or being down the order,” said the #52. “Another two or three tenths and I would have been in the top six and feeling much better after all the hard work we put in today.
“Today wasn't easy because I was looking for more rear grip. But changing the set-up to give me more rear grip, we sacrificed too much of the front-end feeling. And when you don't have front feeling on the fastest track on the calendar with some really flat-out sections, you can't ride with the confidence you need.
“We made some changes to bring back my confidence with the front, but that just created wheelspin and a lack of rear grip again in some parts of the track. We just need to find a compromise but I'm not a million miles away.
“I'm confident with a good start that battling for a top six is certainly within reach. I've still got plenty to fight for in these last three races, so as usual I'll be giving it my maximum for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team."
Toseland produced one of his best MotoGP performances in last year's Australian Grand Prix, on his way to sixth position.