MotoGP title leader Valentino Rossi believes he is much closer to team-mate Jorge Lorenzo at the Majorcan's 'home' MotoGP round in Barcelona than previous races, insisting he can be competitive in Sunday's grand prix.
Coming off seventh and eighth qualifying positions in Le Mans and Mugello, Rossi set himself the target of starting from the front two rows in Montmeló in a bid to halt Lorenzo's ever-increasing momentum.
Yet on Saturday the 36-year old qualified for Q2 by the skin of his teeth, his final lap in FP3 a 'risky' strategy but enough to bump him into the top ten.
Rossi once again left it late to qualify seventh after positing a time of 1m 41.058s, putting him just over half a second slower than the pole position time, set by Suzuki's Aleix Espargaro.
Although the extremely fast qualifying time has yet to arrive, Rossi believed the pace he showed in FP4, in which he finished fourth, demonstrates definite potential for the race.
“Practice was quite positive,” said Rossi, leading the championship by six points. “From yesterday we had a good balance, especially the pace. FP4 was the most interesting because everyone is trying their race pace. I was fourth and feeling confident.
“I was able to do good lap times. After for the qualifying I'm not satisfied 100 percent because I have the potential with the bike to make the top five and start from the second row. Unfortunately I wasn't strong enough to make the perfect lap.
“In the end I have to start seventh. It's not fantastic but it's not too bad. Also, because the guy with the right pace starts from third position [Lorenzo], fourth [Marquez] and sixth position [Pedrosa], seventh [is] not so far.
“I think Jorge has the best pace. Also both of the Hondas are not so bad but this time I am more close and I think I can be more competitive for the race.”
The Suzuki pairing of Espargaro and Maverick Viñales were undoubtedly the surprise of the session, placing first and second, and Rossi admitted he is unsure how the GSX-RR pairing will fare in the second half of Sunday's race.
“I think nobody knows. I am quite optimistic for the Suzuki. They make an incredible lap time with the super soft but the pace with the medium is good. Especially Aleix is fast.
“I think they can stay in the first group for the first half of the race. For the second half nobody know. Or Suzuki don't know. Also the speed on the straight, it looks like Suzuki has improved. If it is fast they can keep the slipstream and can stay on top.”
Asked why he had waited until the last possible moment to set his fastest lap in FP3, which narrowly put him through to Q2, Rossi joked, “We make a good strategy. We simulate the qualifying and I do the lap time on the last lap. We have forty seconds in advance so we have another forty seconds to use!
“Apart from the joke, it's risky. Now it's like this. Everyone is so fast and Saturday morning is already pre-qualifying. Staying in the top ten is not easy. We have a lot of very fast bikes. Also Suzuki here with the super soft so it's not so bad. A good result.”
When judging his pace in FP4, Rossi was able to eleven laps in the mid-to-high 1m 42s while Lorenzo, using worn tyres, set six. According to the Italian 'another step' is needed to consistently challenge in Sunday's race.
“It will be very important now to improve and make another step for tomorrow, to try and improve the set-up for tomorrow morning. Also the start will be important like always.”