Suzuki's Maverick Vinales is gunning for Jorge Lorenzo as he bids to snatch third place in the MotoGP World Championship after closing the deficit with an excellent ride to third at Phillip Island.
Vinales, who roared through the pack after qualifying in 13th position on the GSX-RR, claimed the last place on the rostrum behind Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi – the first time Suzuki has finished on the premier-class podium in Australia since Chris Vermeulen took second in 2006.
With 35 points the difference to Rossi in second place in the points table and only two rounds remaining, Vinales admits it is unlikely he will threaten the Italian for the championship runner-up spot.
However, the Yamaha-bound prospect - who will take over Lorenzo's M1 ride in 2017 - is now within reach of his fellow Spaniard. Vinales closed the deficit to Lorenzo to 11 points at Phillip Island, after the Movistar Yamaha rider could only finish sixth.
“Second in the championship is going to be so difficult. Valentino will be so great in Malaysia and also Valencia, so we need to work so hard and it's a lot of gap on the points. But the third place [Lorenzo] is quite close and I will give everything,” he said.
“When I saw I could be on the podium I pushed a little bit more and I caught [Andrea] Dovizioso quite fast at the end. I was making a strategy to push the end of the race and I was battling with Aleix [Espargaro] and Dovizioso, so Vale could pull away. Honestly, I am so happy after a disastrous weekend and it is so incredible for me. It's really great to have 16 points and also be in front of Jorge.”
Vinales breathed a sigh of relief when he woke to find dry conditions at Phillip Island on Sunday morning, and was immediately confident of his chances in the wake of a strong test at the circuit back in February.
“When I woke up this morning to see if it was sunny, I was not worried about the dry because I am always fast on this track and I make my own riding style to bring the Suzuki on the top,” he said.
“We followed the strategy of Friday and put the bike quite close to the test but during the season we changed many things. I felt quite strong this morning and we tried to modify a little the electronics to save the tyre but the set-up was completely the same way.
“The battling was quite strong but anyway on the first laps I was not feeling confident with the front and it was difficult because we didn't try all the weekend and it was difficult to believe in the tyre. Once I believed I started to ride fast and then I started to overtake many riders – in one lap maybe I overtook two riders, so it was really nice,” Vinales added.
“After the second lap I knew the tyre was good so I tried to overtake and open the gap as much as I can to arrive at the end of the race. I'm really happy how all the season is going and these last two races I will try to give my 100 per-cent.”
Vinales, who will join Rossi in the Movistar Yamaha team in 2017, also paid tribute to race winner Cal Crutchlow.
“Last year we were battling together in the race with Cal but this year he was really fast and honestly I am so happy for him. Now in Malaysia he is fast again so I will try to be as competitive as him in the last races.”