Outside the top ten on the grid for the past four rounds, Valentino Rossi equalled his best Ducati qualifying with seventh for Sunday's US MotoGP at Laguna Seca.
Rossi has chosen to stick with the new GP11.1 motorcycle this weekend, having considered switching back to the standard GP11 following a 16th to 9th 'salvage' ride last Sunday in Germany.
“This morning we made a change to the balance that helped me to find more grip with the soft tyre, as well as a feeling that was generally better. In the afternoon though, with the warmer temperature and the hard tyre, I didn't have the same performance and feeling," explained Rossi.
"During the session we were able to change the settings again and make a small step, and when we put on the soft, we did a time that was good enough for the third row. Seventh place actually equals my best qualifying spot of the season.
"That was our goal, to be able to start further forward than we have lately, but for the race we must improve our pace again with the hard tyres because it's a little too difficult now and the rear is sliding a lot. We're focused and we're working very hard so we'll see tomorrow if we can take another step forward.”
Rossi was 1.033sec behind pole sitter and former team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha).
Present team-mate Nicky Hayden had been ahead of Rossi in all three free practice sessions, but crashed in qualifying and will start his home race from ninth.
Hayden is using the GP11, after trying the GP11.1 for the first time in Friday practice.
“We went back to the standard bike today. I was a little faster on the new one yesterday, but even though it has more potential and I like the gearbox, I don't yet have a great feel for where its limit is," said Hayden. "For now, we prefer to go with what we know.
"This morning I was pretty strong and this afternoon I was consistently in the low-'22 range. I did two longer runs and came in to put in a new soft tyre and was ready to go for it. I felt good and was looking forward to going into qualifying mode.
"I wasn't pushing really hard on the out-lap, but you have to push this bike to load the front, and in Rainey Curve I skipped across the bumps and went down. It's a shame, because we had a chance to do our best qualifying of the year.
"I went out on the other bike, but the front tyre was 30 laps old. The team have worked like dogs switching back and forth between bikes. Now they'll have another long night, but I'll try to make up for it tomorrow.”
Satellite Ducati rider Hector Barbera will start between the factory Desmosedici riders in eighth.
"We are in line with the factory bikes and I think we can have a good battle tomorrow," said the Spaniard. "No doubt Hayden wants a good result here, Valentino too, so my objective is to stick with them as best I can."