Valentino Rossi has a tough fight on his hands to defend the early MotoGP World Championship lead after qualifying just eighth in Argentina.

The Qatar winner and Austin podium finisher lapped over one-second slower than reigning title holder Marc Marquez at the dusty Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, but is sure he will be in better shape for the race.

"I am very upset for the qualifying because I feel I could do better," he said. "Our strategy was not perfect, we arrived in traffic and unfortunately it was not possible to improve.

Related Articles

"On the other side, with the hard tyres the bike works well and I have a good pace, that is most important for the race. We have to work in some places as we still have some issues to solve, we will try to improve and do the best we can in the race."

Rossi, like most of the Factory class Yamaha and Honda riders, is expected to use the new extra-hard rear tyre, which is not available to four of the Ducati/Suzuki riders that qualified ahead of him.

"We worked a lot for improve the pace with the extra hard. This is the target because we think that the race will be with the extra hard," he confirmed. "Sincerely we made a huge step from yesterday, more than one second. The track has improved and the temperature helps the extra hard, but also the setting."

The Doctor set a strong race pace in final practice, clocking six sub-1m 40s laps, equal with Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso and behind only Marquez (11). Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo set four sub-1m 40s laps, but had a slightly faster average time than Rossi.

"For me my pace is not so bad for the podium," Rossi declared. "I feel good. Me and Jorge are very similar. Maybe Jorge is a little bit faster so we need to try to be a bit better, But unfortunately Marquez is a bit too fast. But it is just Saturday. We can improve tomorrow."

Team director Massimo Meregalli also believes further improvements will be made.

"We will definitely make another step for tomorrow's warm up and we will be ready to race. The tyre choice has been made so we are now focused on the fine-tuning. Both Jorge and Vale have been consistently fast, in FP4 Vale did his best lap at the end and showed he can be fast on used tyres. A double podium is definitely a realistic goal for us."

Rossi and Lorenzo (fifth on the grid) had expected the flowing nature of the Argentine circuit to suit their M1 better than Austin, where one week ago the pair were third and fourth in qualifying (0.4s from Marquez).

Marquez is five points from Rossi after his victory in Texas, with sixth-on-the-grid Dovizioso just one point behind. However Rossi won from eighth at Losail and was as low as tenth early in the season-opening race.

Lorenzo and Rossi were third and fourth respectively in last year's inaugural Rio Hondo event.