It's rare to see Marc Marquez cut anything other than a frustrated figure having qualified off the front row, but Saturday evening at Misano was an exception. Despite qualifying fourth, the championship leader feels he can, at the very least, challenge for ultimate honours.
Marquez lamented traffic during the Q2 qualifying shootout, which forced him to search out empty track. By the time he was free of other riders, his tyres had cooled below full working temperature, leaving him without extra grip.
Still, a fast, consistent pace was a more than adequate consolation. The 23-year old admitted he and his Honda RC213V were a lot closer to the Movistar Yamahas – starting Sunday's race from first and second – than he expected.
“Of course I'm always fast in the qualifying practice, but today, on the first tyre, I feel OK, I did a good lap,” explained Marquez, defending a 50-point championship advantage at Valentino Rossi's home track.
“But then with the second one, I was in the middle of the traffic, and then I couldn't find the best lap. I slowed down to try to find a good lap, but then when I pushed in the last lap, the tyres were too cold. They were not in the point where they give you the extra grip, and then I lost the second time attack.
“But in the end, I'm happy, because the rhythm is really good. We are much closer to the Yamaha riders than we expected before we started the weekend, and we will try to fight against them tomorrow, and try to be fast.”
Marquez was quick to dismiss a question that suggested third place was the 'maximum' he could hope for. After all, he placed first and third in the day's two free practice sessions, thanks to a relentlessly consistent pace.
“No, that's not the maximum. If it's like today, I think we have a good rhythm, but we will see. For me, a podium will be a good result, because here was one of the circuits I marked on the calendar that I would be struggling a lot, and I lose more than the other ones, but we are better than we expected before we started the weekend.
“Again, it's one more weekend that everything is very, very close. It looks like [Maverick] Viñales is not so bad on the rhythm, but honestly it looks like the two Yamaha riders and Dani [Pedrosa] for me are the strongest ones.”
On how the machine has improved in terms of acceleration, Marquez added, “It looks like the wings helped a little bit on the wheelie, plus with the electronics we improved a little bit on the wheelie control.
“And also at this circuit, there are corners where you slow down a lot, but you exit with some lean angle all the time, and this helps us. With the new tire, of course the wheelie is more. For that reason, in the qualifying practice, all the Hondas are a little bit behind.
“Because with the new tyre the wheelie is more, because we exit with more speed and then the other manufacturers use more torque, but we cannot use more torque, because the wheelie is the limit. But the important thing is that with the used tyres, the bike is working well.”