Maverick Vinales is confident he has the pace to run at the front in the Qatar MotoGP after the Suzuki rider secured a coveted front row start for the first premier class race of 2016.
The youngest rider on the grid has been mightily impressive throughout pre-season testing and Vinales has carried his form into the opening race weekend in Doha, producing a lap in 1m 54.638s on the GSX-RR, which was only 0.095s shy of pole man Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha.
Without the advantage of the extra soft rubber available last season, Vinales is trading blows with MotoGP's big guns on equal terms and the 21-year-old's juices are flowing with the prospect of a dream podium seemingly within his reach on Sunday.
“For sure [it was] a surprise because I was thinking if I could make the second row it would be perfect because of all the Ducatis, Honda was so strong and also the Yamahas, but finally we were really strong and we improved quite a lot from the test,” Vinales said.
“We need to be intelligent tomorrow on the first laps to be with the front group and if I can on the very first laps, I will try to be in the front. At least if the group breaks, I want to be in the front and try and do the best laps I can and try to fight with the top guys.
“[There can be] four or five in the top group because Valentino [Rossi] has very good pace, also the Ducatis and also Marc [Marquez] and Jorge. In FP4 with the used tyre we were quite strong because at the end we were '56 low, so tomorrow with new tyres if I concentrate and do my lines, I can be there,” he added.
“We will do our best and I will try to put the Suzuki on the top for sure if I have the possibility. Suzuki worked so hard this winter and now I feel great on the bike and I feel I can do what I want, so my confidence is really high. Tomorrow we will know the truth, if we are there or not, so it will be really interesting tomorrow, the race.
“The pace that I have all the weekend and from the test, I believe we can fight for the top but we need to see tomorrow because also the Ducatis on the straight will be able to overtake us and it will be difficult to make all the race in a good pace.”
Tyre choice will be critical and Vinales has yet to make up his mind over his rear tyre preference, although he unequivocally favours the '36 front.
“Also the tyres will be difficult – hard, soft – a little bit difficult to choose. My bike was moving a lot last year in the end of the race so I'm quite confident that this year we have improved it so much that I hope I can keep the good pace,” he said.
“Anyway with these tyres, you can do the best lap with 10 or 11 laps, so for sure who will be more intelligent and take care of the tyres will be one key for the end of the race.
“In the race I will use the '36 front but the rear I don't know yet and we have to talk. We still need grip from the bike and we will work hard in Argentina to find the grip.”
Vinales also revealed he will run with the 'Type 1' seamless gearbox in Qatar, but says he will adopt the full seamless for Argentina and Austin.
“We will use the 'Type 1' seamless because we have some issues with the 'Type 2'. But for Argentina and Austin I think it will be okay to use the second one. I think we are on the same speed as the Honda and I think in the slipstream we can overtake, so we will see.”