On pole 49 times in the premier-class, sixth on the grid for the Czech Republic Grand Prix may seem barely worth a mention - but it's the best start of a tough season for Valentino Rossi and Ducati.

The Italian superstar began the day well with third in wet final practice, before a dry qualifying saw the seven-time MotoGP champion steadily improve the setting of his GP11.1 and finish 0.776sec from pole.

"We took a step forward today by changing the front setting again and also modifying the riding position on the bike," revealed Rossi. "We were also good in the wet this morning; actually, it was a really fun session, being there near the front the whole time. It's been a good weekend so far, although of course nothing earth-shattering, as I'm only sixth.

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"Anyway, it's my best qualifying position of the season with the Ducati, which I'm also able to ride better this way, especially under braking and on corner entry. During tomorrow's warm-up, we'll try to further improve the rear grip in the first two sectors, where I'm losing the most time. In the second half of the track, I'm only losing about a tenth.

"We're pleased because we've learned a few things and, after an initial period of adaptation, we're able to work on the GP11.1 in a more productive way.

Team-mate Nicky Hayden also made tangible progress on Saturday, lowering his best time from Friday by over eight tenths to claim ninth on the grid.

"In the end, we salvaged ninth, but it wasn't easy getting there," admitted the American. "All weekend, it's just been really hard in the dry, because the bike was spinning and wouldn't hold the line.

"This morning in the wet was great right from the exit. With our standard rain setup, I was never outside the top five, from the start to the finish, but this afternoon in the dry was hard work.

"We came back in a lot and changed things, but without finding a right direction. Finally, with about 20 minutes to go, we hit on something with the ride height where I was able to keep the line and could begin to push, and in the end, I was able to get into the 57s.

"To get on the third row is obviously nothing spectacular, but it's much better than how things were looking. Hopefully, following that direction tomorrow will keep helping us."

Hayden is still using the GP11 but plans to test the modified GP11.1 on Monday.