Bradley Smith managed to transform an underwhelming Friday performance into a solid second row starting position by posting the sixth fastest time in MotoGP qualifying at Valencia.
The Englishman was a lowly 15th on Friday afternoon after experimenting with several set-up changes but was less than one tenth of a second slower than Aleix Espargaro's fourth fastest time.
While stating he feels he has reached a “performance limit” with his current version of the Yamaha M1, Smith feels he has a good consistency that can aid his bid for a strong season ending result on Sunday.
“I have to be happy, especially at a tight and twisty track like Valencia,” said Smith. “I had to be able to qualify as good as possible for here, so to be second row is great. Hopefully with a good start, I can jump Aleix and Cal alongside me. There's been a lot of close lap times, so it's important to be able to get a good start and get away a little bit.
“This morning was really good pace, this afternoon we tried a few different ideas, but we didn't find anything so I came back to what I knew was working for qualifying.
“I think it's going to be a tough thirty-lap race. It'll be more difficult in the afternoon than it's been in the morning; the mornings are good, but when the track temperatures tarts to get above 25 or 26ºC we struggle a little bit. The front tyre seems to be critical at the beginning of the race, and that's something to play attention to because it's easy to lose the front – like we saw a lot of guys do in practice.”
A little off the pace of team-mate Pol Espargaro in FP4, Smith feels he still needs to find a handful of tenths to compete in the group behind the front three of Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
“I think the Ducatis were struggling a little with the hotter conditions, but I have to admit I was a little surprised to be ahead of them. I wasn't able to put together my best qualifying, but it's difficult to pout together your best lap around here. You want to go fast, you try too hard, and the time goes away from you.
“I have to be a second ahead of them before we get to the main straight, because the speed of the bike is phenomenal. Fingers crossed I can have a bit of a gap on them, try and ride my own race, and then go a little and not get held up with that extra speed.
“I'm not in the second group yet, but I'm confident I will be tomorrow; when I look at my FP4 times they're not how I wanted them to be. We tried three ideas, none of them worked, but we know now where we're at. If you look at Iannone with his fast lap time, he still always turns up with a little extra on Sunday.
“It'll be interesting to see what Aleix can do if he doesn't get swamped by his lack of speed – but the Suzuki seems to suffer less. He seemed to be able to pull Valentino out of the corners when I saw them together.”
Smith was also full of praise for pole sitter Lorenzo, who was half a second faster in the final sector than the Englishman. Seeing the four-time champion's data can, at times, be demoralising for the Tech 3 man.
“Jorge's lap was very impressive. I get to have a look at the data, and sometimes it can be a bit demoralising - 'how the hell did you do that?!' - but I can dissect it and learn from it. He had half a second on me in the last sector alone – which kills me, because I'm sideways, crossed up, and can't do any more, and he's still finding half a second on me! Hopefully the data will do us some good though.”