Valentino Rossi has cast serious doubt on his ability to challenge for a rare Ducati podium in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, despite ending the first day of practice in a hugely promising fifth position.
The 33-year-old slashed almost a second off his best time in the second session to clock a fastest lap of 1.46.687 that left him 0.599s behind Dani Pedrosa’s outright quickest pace.
But the Italian admits that the speed of Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and compatriot Andrea Dovizioso means that if all three finish Sunday’s race, it is unlikely that he has the pace to battle for a third rostrum finish of 2012.
Rossi, who was 0.259s behind German rookie Stefan Bradl, told MCN: “Today was a good day for us, especially this afternoon because we made a good modify to the bike on the rear that gave me a lot more traction on the exit of the corner and from that moment I start to go faster.
"I am happy with the fifth position but I am also happy because I am just a bit more than 0.5s away from pole position and that is a good gap.
"We have to work though because unfortunately I am good with the new soft tyre and I did a good lap. But after three of four laps I start to slide too much and I am not so fast on the pace.
"I lose too much time and to do a good race we need to improve by three or four tenths a lap. The first three are faster but from fourth we are all very close.
"It is a problem because there are four or five riders that have the same pace, so to fight for the first position in that group we need to improve, but if not we will lose a lot of places.
"Pedrosa and Lorenzo are faster but it looks like a little bit less than in the last races. Dovizioso is close and he has a good pace, so the podium is already finished but in the race you never know what will happen.
"To fight for the fourth place I need to improve my pace because like we are now it will be difficult. The target will be to improve the pace and start from the second row and after we will see.
"The rear tyre choice will be very important because here the soft and the hard are very similar and we need to wait until Sunday to see what the conditions of the track and the temperature is because it is possible to make the race with both and it will be a very important decision.”
One issue Rossi and numerous other riders reported experiencing at the Twin Ring Motegi today was excessive heat in the front brake discs that resulted in a loss of braking power.
The Twin Ring Motegi is renowned for its stop and go and hard braking nature and the extra speed of the new generation 1000s seems to have put even extra stress on the front brake that has less to the carbon discs overheating.
Rossi said: “I have a problem with the brakes, especially in the second part of the track because we overheat the front brake and when it goes over the limit in the temperature I lose brake power and this is a problem but difficult to fix because we are already using the big discs.
"The 1000cc bike is very fast and this track is very demanding for the brakes and it is a big problem. Brembo will check the temperature of the discs and we will see tomorrow.”