Andrea Dovizioso was a picture of calm and composure on Friday afternoon after the title hopeful posted a strong showing in the first two MotoGP free practice sessions at Phillip Island.

Far from overawed by his current proximity to championship leader Marc Marquez in the title fight, the Italian appeared more relaxed than ever in his dealings with the media, stating he had expected to be competitive here – just not quite as much as this.

Dovizioso ended FP2 in third place with a time that was just 0.097s off Aleix Espargaro’s fastest of the day. What’s more, the Italian had the chance to assess Michelin’s two viable rear tyre options for the race, with Marquez convinced the Ducatis are aiming to utilise the soft. “Really happy,” was how the 31-year old repeatedly described his mood.

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“Yes, happy. We did almost what we expected. I expected to be competitive. But we did a little bit more, so I’m really happy about that. Immediately from the first exit I felt quite good. I’m happy with the feeling of the bike, but it’s not enough.

“Marc confirmed what we expected. He’s very competitive here. He’s very consistent so it will be difficult to beat him but he’s not too far. I’m really happy about that. We have to continue working in the same way because today we improved a little bit.

“We confirm a really good speed this afternoon. We started with a used tyre from this morning and we did our best lap on the first run. I’m really happy about that. We already compared the two rear tyres so we have important feedback. We have to continue working like this and to see tomorrow if we have a normal practice to be able to work. I think for us it’s better.”

In spite of his recent speed, Dovizioso’s proximity to the front perhaps came as a surprise. Not only is the track far from his favourite. The turning deficiencies of the Ducati GP17 hindered Jorge Lorenzo (eleventh) and Danilo Petrucci (17th) around Phillip Island's fast changes of direction.

And Dovizioso admitted the turning issues were holding him back. However, he has “understood the positives and negatives” of the machine in such a way, he can limit those deficiencies.

“In the middle of the corner I think I’m not as fast as a lot of riders,” he said. “I always have to slow down a little bit more before turning the bike. This I think is the main point. It’s not only that but for sure we are focussed on that.

“We’ve adapted the bike and adapted to the limit of the bike, and used the positive things of the bike. This is the reason why I did the difference compared to the other Ducati riders.

“We understood very well the positive and negatives and we try to use [the bike] in the best way. We try to manage the positives and negatives. It becomes a little bit better, the turning, but still the DNA is that.”

On the rear tyre selection he added, “We used more the soft to try and understand. I think also the soft is a good chance for the race. But the drop is huge, but that’s like every year here.

“We have to make more laps on the medium tomorrow to try and have more feedback. Already we did a lot of work about that. Normally on Fridays it’s difficult to do this, especially at Phillip Island. I’m happy about the way we work today.”

And what of his tactics for Sunday’s race? “I think now we are very competitive,” said a confident Dovizioso. “We are ready to fight. Marc now knows more than before. Like he’s trying to do to me, I’m trying to do to him, to put the pressure because this is racing.

“I think we have a chance to fight. It will be very difficult because Marc is really fast, really good and it’s difficult to beat a rider when he’s fast like this. But before Japan it was like this. And we did it.”

Has this come as a surprise? Hiding a smile, Dovizioso admitted, “A little bit. I’m surprised. I’m surprised, yes. I know the quantity of work I did to try and be in this condition. I know where I worked to be in this condition. I know very well why we are competitive.

“But at the end to win five races and to be at the level we are, with the riders and the bike, I’m a little bit surprised. But like I said before, I know why we did that. So I’m convinced I’m not in the special moment. So I’m not too surprised.”

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Excellent.

C'mon Dovi! I'd love to see him take the title, but whoever wins - both he and Marc deserve it