Valentino Rossi could barely contain his delight after he claimed his first front row start since returning from the broken right leg injury that blighted his 2010 MotoGP campaign.
The Fiat Yamaha rider, boosted by the improved horsepower and acceleration from a new factory YZR-M1 motor, narrowly missed a shock pole position after a dramatic finale to qualifying for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Rossi logged a best time of 1.47.055 on his final flying lap but was just 0.054s away from denying fellow Italian Andrea Dovizioso his first MotoGP pole position.
Rossi, who is nearing the end of his Yamaha career as he prepares to join Ducati in 2011, was ecstatic to be so competitive having never been in the previous six races since he came back from injury in Germany in July.
Rossi said: “You don't know how much I'm happy to be so fast and so competitive. It feels like ten years has passed since the last time I was on the front row. We start from yesterday afternoon with a good pace and we continue with some good laps in all the practice.
"I expect to suffer more with my shoulder in this track but the reality is I can ride well. We make also a good job on the bike and we have a good setting. At the end I lose the pole position by just a little bit but anyway it is so important to start on the front row for the race.”
Rossi had feared the hard braking points that dominate the 4.801km Twin Ring Motegi track would give him serious discomfort with his lingering right shoulder injury.
But he has been pleasantly surprised at how well his shoulder has stood up to the physical demands and he added: “I lose a little bit in the hard braking because I don't have 100 per cent power to stop the bike.
"But at the same time we worked very well, so I'm fast in the fast corners and I'm able to stay in front.
"I don’t suffer a lot when I have to stop the bike in a straightline. I suffer more where I have to use the brake in the entry with some lean angle.
"For that reason I don’t have a lot of pain and I can ride close to the maximum. I lose a little bit in the hard braking but we have a good balance in the fast part that is so important to make the lap time at this track.
"We’ll wait for tomorrow. I think the crucial point is the rear tyre decision and the track temperature. It is a question mark to use hard or soft but like everybody I hope for a dry race.”
Rossi believes for the first time since his injury comeback that he can mount a serious challenge for victory in tomorrow’s 24-lap race. He’s only scored a best of third since returning to action but he added:
“When you lose pole position by such a small gap, you have to try to win. It depends, especially on (Jorge) Lorenzo who looks like he has a better pace than us. But he starts fourth, so it is more difficult. I will be happy already with the podium, but we will try for the victory for sure."