Valentino Rossi has pinpointed both Andrea Iannone and Marc Marquez as the pair with the performance edge going into the Australia MotoGP but is confident of challenging for the podium after practice breakthroughs.

Having ended Friday downbeat after scarping into the top ten but struggling with Yamaha’s ongoing problem of spinning the rear tyre under acceleration, Rossi reported an upbeat change following the final two practice sessions as he upped his pace to close in on fellow Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Johann Zarco.

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Despite missing out to the pair in tricky conditions in Q2, Rossi felt the front two rows would have been in reach in dry conditions, having had to settle for seventh place in qualifying, but has conceded both Suzuki’s Iannone and Repsol Honda’s Marquez remain out of reach on race pace.

“We improved and we worked with acceleration and different tyres,” Rossi said. “I followed Iannone and he is faster than me. He rode with a better feeling and he is very strong. Marquez always used the tyre but he is fast. We’ll see.

“Last year it was the best race of the season for sure because it was a wild battle from the beginning until the end. I hope to be in the group.

“Unfortunately for qualifying the conditions were very, very tricky. It rained a little bit and you don't know how much, you still need to use the slick but you don't know if you can push much or to 100%. This is not my best condition usually. I think with a normal qualifying my potential is a bit better.

“From the other side seventh place is the third row and is nothing special but is not a disaster. The guys in front are strong and fast.”

Rossi also remains optimistic given the unpredictable weather and temperatures which will have a direct impact on tyre choice which he’s hopeful will provide him with an opportunity to attack.

“It depends on the work from now until tomorrow morning and also on the weather and the tyre choice,” he said. “It is open between soft and hard and we hope for the sun and a good day. For sure it is great here if you have the sun and you can see a very good race usually.

“It looks like Iannone and Marquez have something more than the others. Then it is Maverick and then me a lot of others.”

The nine-time world champion is enduring his longest stretch without a rostrum throughout his two stints at Yamaha, with his last previous podium coming in Germany with a second-place finish behind Marquez at the Sachsenring.

Rossi is also going through his second-longest winless run of his Grand Prix career with his previous victory coming back at the 2017 Assen round.

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