Valentino Rossi will start his first MotoGP race for Ducati from ninth on the grid, having lost further ground during qualifying at Qatar.

Unable to keep up with the pace of improvements by man-to-beat Casey Stoner, Rossi has dropped further back from the Australian as the weekend has continued.

Rossi began well with fifth and 0.7sec from Stoner's Repsol Honda in FP1, but that grew to 1.1sec (ninth) in FP2, 1.3sec (eighth) in FP3 and finally 1.5sec in qualifying.

Rossi, a seven time MotoGP champion who won last year's Qatar round for Yamaha, continues to struggle with both set-up and shoulder strength.

Nevertheless, the Italian insists that technical progress is being made and is optimistic that he can run a 'relatively competitive' pace on Sunday... providing his shoulder lasts the distance.

"I think that without my shoulder problem, which is causing us to lose five or six tenths, we could have been on the second row today, because we were able to improve the setup by making changes that will also be important in the foreseeable future," said Rossi.

"Today I was able to ride the GP11 better, but by the time we used the soft tyre at the end of the session, my strength was gone. When I tried to do my lap time, there were some parts of the track where I just couldn't push.

"Anyway, we got an okay time and we still have some things we can try in the warm-up.

"As for the race I think that as long as my shoulder lasts, we'll be able to have a pace that's relatively competitive, apart from the two Hondas [of Stoner and Pedrosa].

"We'll see how it goes from a physical point of view in the second half of the race, after eleven or twelve laps in a row riding on the limit."

Rossi was the second best Desmosedici rider in qualifying, three places and 0.4sec behind Aspar rider Hector Barbera.

Barbera has been one of the surprises of the 2011 season opener so far, and claimed the final second row start Rossi spoke about.

Rossi's factory team-mate Nicky Hayden will start his third season with Ducati from just 13th on the grid. The American finished fourth last year at Qatar and was just a friction of a second from the podium.

"It was pretty much the same way that it has been all weekend. I just clearly wasn't fast enough," said the straight-talking American. "We tried something toward the start of the session that was very similar to last year's setup, but it didn't work. I got back on my other bike and had one decent lap going, but I made a mistake in the last corner.

"Most of the weekend I've been able to go just as fast on used hard tyres, but that wasn't the case tonight, even though the temperature is warmer. I thought my best lap might get me out of trouble a little bit, because it was the first time since we got rid of qualifying tyres that I got into the 55s around here, but it wasn't nearly good enough this year.

"We've known since the tests in Malaysia that everybody has made a big step. It's been a frustrating weekend, and it won't be easy tomorrow starting from way back, but we're not ready to go home yet."



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