Valentino Rossi made a shaky start to Saturday, but rebounded in style during the afternoon to claim second on the Red Bull Ring MotoGP grid - between the dominant factory Ducatis.

Rossi's performance revived memories of his epic 2008 Laguna Seca battle against Ducati, when the Yamaha rider smothered Casey Stoner's pace advantage to snatch a shock victory.

Few would be surprised if Rossi unleashes similar tactics against Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso to prevent them escaping in Sunday's 28-lap encounter, the first in Austria since 1997.

The Doctor - like team-mate Jorge Lorenzo - certainly has plenty of incentive to go on the attack. A shoulder injury for runaway title leader Marc Marquez means the Honda rider starts the race with doubts over his fitness.

"I'm very happy to be on the front row and also a little bit better, because I was able to split the Ducatis. It's a great result also because a '23.2 is a very good lap time," Rossi began

"We didn't start well this morning, in FP3 I suffer because we tried to change something to improve acceleration. But we did a very good job with the team in the afternoon. In fact in FP4 I was already third behind the Ducatis and felt good.

"We were able to improve the balance a little more in qualifying, I could push more, felt good in braking and could enter the corners fast, which is very important for our bike.

"I tried the maximum and it was a very good lap. For sure it is important to start from the front row, but now we have to wait for the conditions and temperature tomorrow.

"Tyre choice will also be very important because I think it is open for the rear. We will have to keep one eye on the front to try and stay with them, but also one eye on the second row. Because the second row has Lorenzo, Marquez and Vinales who also have the pace to fight for the victory.

"I think tomorrow the strongest six riders of the season are all starting on the first two rows so it can be a good battle."

Rossi admits that engine performance, Ducati's greatest attribute, is of greater importance this weekend. But he added that there are plenty of other areas where the likes of Yamaha and Suzuki can gain ground.

"The average speed is very fast because you have three or four places where you start in first or second and arrive in fifth or sixth. So acceleration is very important, the way to put the horsepower on the ground and the amount of power you can put on the ground without spin or wheelie.

"But you have also a lot of corners and, for example, the Suzuki is not so bad here. It is always a balance, not just engine. If you are slow in the corners you are out."

The key for Rossi's victory chances is likely to be whether he is able to remain in the Ducati's slipstream on the straights, putting him close enough to attack in the corners.

Rossi is currently a massive 59 points from Marquez while Lorenzo, who qualified just ahead of Marquez in fourth, is 48 points behind.

By Peter McLaren