Valentino Rossi is optimistic of his chances in this weekend's Japanese MotoGP, but needs to find a few more tenths a lap to think about a podium challenge on Sunday.
Motegi has traditionally been a strong circuit for Ducati, which has take four wins in the home event of its Japanese rivals.
Rossi, who will return to Yamaha in 2013, has taken five podiums at the stop-go circuit - but only one win (2008). His race debut at the track for Ducati saw Rossi qualify in seventh, but crash after just a few turns.
“I like Motegi a lot. It's a nice track with good grip, and I have a positive memory of last year. We steadily improved the bike's setup over the course of the weekend, and I think I could have had a good race if I hadn't crashed on the first lap,” said Rossi.
“At the moment, we're still missing a couple of tenths with our pace to think of the podium, but at the last two races, we were still able to ride at a good, constant rhythm until the end, which is positive.
“At Motegi we'll try to continue working in this direction and to take advantage of the Ducati's potential, which is usually very high at this track.”
Poor weather throughout practice at Aragon made a thorough evaluation of the latest Ducati parts, used by Rossi to claim second place at Misano, all but impossible.
Motegi should provide the chance for further chassis 'checks', although the return to action of Casey Stoner is likely to make a podium result more difficult.
With Vale, we've been working in a promising direction with the setup for some races, and we'll be able to check it again on Sunday,” sad team manager Vittoriano Guareschi. “In addition, good grip usually helps us, and the Japanese track's asphalt offers good traction.
“Nicky will have to deal with another small hand fracture [from Aragon, see separate story], but he's a very determined rider and he has reassured us that his condition is okay and that he has every intention of immediately returning to action.”