British rookie Bradley Smith admitted his brilliant ride into the top 10 in practice in Qatar last night was a massive eye-opener into the challenge he faces to push Yamaha’s YZR-M1 1000cc machine at the limit over a full race distance.
The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team rider finished ninth fastest in the third free practice with a pace of 1.56.901 that saw him slash almost 1.5s off his previous best time in the opening two sessions.
The Oxfordshire rider was only 0.817s off Marc Marquez’s best pace and he finished less than 0.5s behind factory Yamaha rider and nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi in fourth.
By finishing inside the top 10, which saw him faster than Stefan Bradl, Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies, Smith automatically put himself into tomorrow night’s second 15-minute qualifying session in which 12 riders will battle it out for grid positions on the first four rows.
A top 10 finish to get seeded straight into QP2 under the qualifying format was one of Smith’s main pre-race goals and he told MCN: “I’d like to say I was surprised but it was always my objective from when I first knew about this new qualifying system.
"To do it is another story and especially in those circumstances. Less than a second to the front means it was a close session and you had to be going fast and to be able to pull that out of the bag was something I was proud of.
"The team got me more confident and to find 1.3s in a session is huge and that’s really good.”
Asked where he had found such a huge chunk of time, the former 125GP race winner added: “They just gave me more rear grip and with that you get more confidence. It felt like a race bike and before it was floating around a lot.
"I always felt like I had a pocket of air underneath me but all of a sudden we changed the setting and I actually felt what the front and rear tyre was supposed to be doing.
"They grip flipping good when they are doing it properly. For me it was perfect laps because I managed to string three 56.9s together, so there wasn’t much more to come from the tank.”
Smith then explained how the intensity of lapping at such a fast pace just to break into the top 10 had opened his eyes as to how tough MotoGP is going to be in his first season.
He had not expected it to be so difficult just to sneak into the top 10 and he said: “It is not a victory but it is a big achievement to be able to do that. To be within a second is always something that I have been edging towards.
"Maybe it was an adventurous target but I didn’t realise how hard you had to ride to be within that second. I thought it would come easier than it was but you need to go absolutely wide open to be within a second of these guys and it has made realise the job is a lot harder than I first thought.
"Riding 20 laps at that intensity, I take my hat off to these guys. It has opened my eyes to my MotoGP. I need to learn how to ride at that intensity but get my brain to think at that intensity.
"At the moment I am rushing everything. I didn’t feel like I had a second to breathe whole way round.”