Valentino Rossi claimed his best ever Circuit of the Americas grid position with fourth in Saturday's MotoGP qualifying session.
The Italian, who won the season-opening Qatar round from eighth on the grid, has never finished on the podium in Texas and credited improvements to the 2015 M1 for putting him on course to fight for a rostrum on Sunday.
The nine time world champion lapped 0.438s from Marc Marquez's Repsol Honda pole time, but only 0.033s behind Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and a place on the front row.
“I think that with a better lap I could have stayed on the first row, because we are very close to Jorge and Dovizioso," Rossi said. "Last year there was a bigger difference to Marc's pace, this is very positive, but he remains the favorite for the race tomorrow. After him there's me, Jorge and Dovi very close in terms of rhythm.”
The Doctor added: "I'm happy because we improved the bike a lot in braking compared to last year. Also the seamless [gearbox] help us a lot and also the setting. This is the main issue. I think that on paper this is one of the tracks where we suffer more, so we are not so far. But for sure it will be a difficult race.
“First of all now we have to work for improve in the dry and then tomorrow morning, when we open the window, we can have a better idea [if it will rain]. But in this type of weekend, with the weather like this, the important thing is to be ready for both and sincerely on Friday [in the wet] I was not so bad.
“It looks like now we are closer [to Marc]. This is the target. We have to try to make a good race, stay on the podium.”
Between Marquez and Lorenzo on Sunday's front row will be the Ducati GP15 of Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi's main opponent for victory in Qatar.
"What I saw in Qatar is that the Ducati improved a lot compared to last year and now especially the turning is a lot better and similar to our bike... Now they can use our line, our way to do the corner."
Rossi also commented on the news that former title rival Casey Stoner was interested in returning to MotoGP as a replacement for Marquez's injured team-mate Dani Pedrosa.
“Sincerely I don't expect from Casey that he want to come back,” Rossi said. “But for sure it is a shame because it can be very interesting to have, in this type of grid, with this level in MotoGP, also Stoner who is one of the best riders of the last years.”
Ultimately it was Honda that decided against the double world champion making a shock comeback. HRC feared they could not provide the Australian with the necessary bike set-up or crew to mount a podium challenge.