Mugello hero Valentino Rossi stressed the importance of his first pole start at his home MotoGP since 2008, which the Yamaha rider says is crucial to his prospects in Sunday's race.
Rossi was able to slingshot past Suzuki's Maverick Vinales after following his future team-mate in the closing moments to take pole by only 0.094 seconds from the young Spaniard, much to the ire of championship leader Jorge Lorenzo, who claimed the pair deliberately worked together in Q2.
It is Rossi's second pole of 2016 after he managed the feat at Jerez and the 37-year-old says he is feeling strong on the factory YZR-M1.
“It's a great day, something special, something fantastic and I was riding with a good feeling, a good sensation,” said Rossi, who lapped in 1m 46.504s.
“Already from yesterday it was very tough – I was not so bad, but I was in the sixth or seventh position and the top ten were very fast and very close.
“Today, we did a good step this morning and I felt better, but anyway I was in the eighth place, so nothing special. After we did another step and in free practice four it was very good, I had a good pace and I felt good with the bike,” he added.
“We started very optimistic for the qualifying, but you never know. We tried to make the right strategy to be in a good place, in a good moment, and not like in Le Mans when we did some mistakes.”
Rossi admitted that he benefitted from a tow from Vinales on his pole lap and said his front row start will be a huge advantage on Sunday, after he was previously forced to start from the second or third row of the grid at Mugello in recent seasons.
“I was lucky that I had the slipstream of Maverick, which helped me make the pole position,” said Rossi.
“It is fantastic at Mugello because already there is a lot of crowds, a lot of atmosphere. Also, it's very important for the race because in the last years I have always struggled in the qualifying and started on the second or third row, so starting from pole position is very important for the race because in this track, it is very difficult to overtake.
“I feel good with the bike but we have to try to improve some small details,” he added.
“For the tyres, I tried the hard this afternoon and the feeling is not so bad, but the pace is not so fast. So we think we will be more for the soft, but also the soft after some laps starts to move.”
Asked for his thoughts on Lorenzo's comments that he had devised a strategy to work alongside Vinales in Q2, Rossi denied that he had worked in cahoots with the young Suzuki prospect.
“When you are on track, you try always to follow the other riders, especially the new guys arriving in MotoGP. When I tried to follow Vinales to understand the way he rides, he is not a rider who closes the throttle – he also continues to push for minimum one lap,” he said.
“And also this happens a lot of times with Andrea Iannone, so when you are in the front, you have to do the same. Nothing was programmed before and usually we wait late to have no traffic.
“I think that today Maverick is not very happy that I was behind because if I didn't do this lap, he gets the pole position. At the end, it is true that helped me, so I copied.”
Rossi says that although he, Vinales and Andrea Iannone have good race pace, he also expects Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo – fourth and fifth in Q2 respectively – to be in the frame for victory.
“At this moment it looks like Vinales has the better pace, he is a little bit faster, and I am not so bad and Iannone is with me,” he said.
“But we have to remember that Marquez and Lorenzo will go fast tomorrow for sure and I think that the top five can win tomorrow.
“The race here in Mugello is always very demanding, physically and mentally, so to start from the pole position is very important.”
The nine-time world champion had plenty to celebrate on Saturday with VR46 riders Romano Fenati and Andrea Migno fastest in the Moto3 class, while Lorenzo Baldassarri qualified third fastest on the front row in Moto2.
“We are very proud and it is something that I don't expect,” Rossi said of the achievement.
“In the last days, sharing time with the guys you feel the pressure of the Italian Grand Prix because Mugello is Mugello, for all the Italian riders.
“We are very proud and happy with the result because sometimes the pressure is difficult to manage and a lot of times it make things worse than better. We are so happy and we will try to continue like this.”