Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso admitted he was surprised by his pace in Qatar as the Italian remained inside the top six on day two with a best lap just 0.333s behind pacesetter Marc Marquez.

Dovizioso clocked the fifth fastest time in 1m 56.417s on the Desmosedici to finish free practice on a high, one thousandth of a second behind Yamaha's Valentino Rossi.

It was a superb performance by Dovi, who has raised expectations for Ducati ahead of Sunday's opening round of the MotoGP World Championship.

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"I'm very happy with the position, but I'm especially pleased with the gap to the front," he said.

"Fifth place is good, but the gap of three tenths is even better. I didn't expect to be so close, especially because up until this session, we didn't really have true parameters.

"In fact, this was the first face-off with the soft tyre, and we can say that we were pretty close to the others when the tyre is new," he added.

"We still have to see how things are in race configuration, and tomorrow before qualifying, we'll decide if we should go ahead with the soft tyre."

Nicky Hayden also secured an automatic place in the decisive second qualifying session as he improved to eighth position with a time of 1m 56.417s.

"It certainly wasn't easy tonight, as conditions were changing a lot," said Hayden.

"The wind was really strong in FP2, and there was a lot of sand on the track, but when things improved for FP3, I could push a bit harder.

"I kind of treated the session like qualifying, because it's important to advance to QP2.

"My position isn't great, but the gap to the front isn't so bad," he added.

"We want to make the bike more controllable in the wind and improve traction on corner entry, so if we can keep working in a good way, maybe we can do well in qualifying. It should be exciting."