Ninth on the grid is clearly nothing to shout about, but struggling superstar Valentino Rossi heads into Sunday's Portuguese MotoGP feeling progress has been made in several areas with his Ducati.

"The day wasn't bad in the end. We're on the third row, 0.8 seconds behind pole position, and we're matching the pace of the intermediate group, after the top four," said Rossi.

"We've worked better this weekend, steadily making small improvements, and now I'm able to ride closer to the limit and push harder on the bike.

"We have a lot of work to do, especially on acceleration, where we're losing time, but for sure it's our best session so far. We managed to improve in T4, the sector where we had problems yesterday.

"We loaded the rear of the bike to improve grip, which worked. I'm also doing better on the brakes, so I should be able to fight better during battles.

"We'll see. Tyres will be important, because the soft is difficult to manage to the end, whereas with the hard, it's very difficult to push in the beginning. We're leaning toward the soft, but we'll wait for tomorrow to decide."

Rossi was a fraction behind the top Desmosedici of satellite rider Hector Barbera, who used a tow early on in the session to set his best time, while factory team-mate Nicky Hayden will start one place behind Rossi.

"Obviously, this isn't where we wanted to be. I'm one second from the top, which sometimes isn't that far off, but here I'm in tenth place," said Hayden. "All weekend, we just haven't been able to find that last little bit, as I've had a lot of little problems.

"For whatever reason, we're not getting the bike to work the tyre properly, and it's not really gripping the track. I used the same hard tyre the entire morning session, so I thought I'd take more of a step in qualifying. Some of my used tyres still look like new, but they're just spinning.

"We've got to sort that out and improve change of direction. We've only got 20 minutes in the morning, but we'll see what we can come up with. It's going to be difficult. On a positive note, I went much faster than I did here last year in qualifying."

Rossi has taken 10-9 and Hayden 6-8 race finishes so far this season.

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