Two days into the 2016 MotoGP season and Valentino Rossi has expressed his pleasure at his speed in full-race trim but has predicted a frantic multi-rider battle for a second row starting berth on Saturday.
Seventh fastest at the close of Friday, Rossi found himself in the middle of a congested top ten, proving that one or tenths of a second could be the difference between a second and fourth row grid slot.
The Italian's hopes of using Michelin's third front tyre compound suffered a blow in the second free practice session, when it soon became clear that it was not suitable for long periods of use.
And while the 37-year old was unable to challenge the top three of Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez in the time attack in the final minutes of the late-evening session, the nine-time world champion was upbeat, and stressed the importance of maintaining full concentration through Saturday's 15-minute qualifying session.
“Today was a bit more difficult, especially because we hope that the third choice front tyre would work better than the tyre of yesterday,” said Rossi. “Unfortunately no, it's worse. We have to work with the tyre of yesterday. With this problem we lose a little bit of FP2 but in free practice three I was stronger. At the beginning I had a problem with the first bike but with the second bike I had a good pace. That is good for the race.
“But for the time attack I am in the seventh position and it's not enough. Tomorrow it will be important to improve the setting and improve two or three points. Especially make a very good lap because from fourth to seventh we are in one tenth. It will be very different, those positions. If you start fourth it will be a lot more easy in the first corner.
“Speaking about today, it looks like Iannone, Lorenzo and Marquez are a little bit faster. But from fourth with Dovi, Maverick, Pedrosa, Redding, we have five or six riders that can fight for the second row. It will be very important to make a good lap with the right concentration because in one tenth you can modify three or four positions and it will be very important for the first lap.”
A day that not only underlined the outright pace of the front three, seven Ducatis filled the top seven positions in the speed trap charts, with Iannone's '16 spec machine some twelve kph faster than Rossi's M1.
While the Yamaha's of Rossi and Lorenzo are a match for the factory Hondas, the gap to Iannone's outright advantage is concern.
“About the speed of Honda we are quite happy because last year we have Ducati, Honda and Yamaha. This year we are very close to Honda but the difference to Ducati remains very big. Like I said before I hoped before I came here that with a same amount of engine and a same amount of fuel that the difference between us and Ducati was less than 10kph. But no. It's also a little bit more so it seems Ducati has made a very good job.”
Speaking on whether Michelin's tyres will require riders to approach qualifying in a difference manner, Rossi added, “It will change a little bit qualifying and also the race. You need one lap or half a lap more so you need to start a bit more quiet. But we will see tomorrow.”