Bradley Smith was ecstatic after qualifying just two places behind nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi for his MotoGP debut at the Losail International Circuit in Doha tonight.
The Oxfordshire rider will start the 22-lap season opener from ninth on the grid after an impressive MotoGP qualifying debut in the new 15-minute shootout for pole position.
The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider logged a best lap of 1.56.315 and unlike the other 11 riders he only used one soft rear Bridgestone tyre.
He had used an extra soft tyre in Friday night’s FP3 to ensure he was automatically seeded through to QP2, while he wanted to save another soft tyre for tonight’s pre-race warm-up session.
He told MCN: “To be on the third row is better than I expected. I was a little worried that I could go backwards after FP3 because I knew (Stefan) Bradl was going to be there but to be in front of Nicky (Hayden) is obviously a bonus.
"Having one tyre and just one go at it put a little bit of pressure on me. I think the other guys had two goes at it and everyone mostly improved on the second time around, so we will know that for the future.
"What was important for me yesterday was to get from FP3 into the top ten and not burn up too many tyres but we had to use up an extra one to make sure, which meant I only had one for qualifying.
"We have kept one for the warm-up to get a feeling for the race because I think doing a long run on full fuel is more beneficial than going low fuel, wide open on brand new tyres for two laps in qualifying.”
Smith said he had no targets for the race other than to make no mistakes and learn as much as he can, preferably from being engaged in close combat during his premier class debut.
He added: “Looking at the lap times I'm not sure. On my pace I can't follow the guys in front of me but the Ducati might go backwards. I don’t know by how much but also (Alvaro) Bautista is struggling a little with an injury so you don't know how he will be for the race distance.
"And I also don't know a full race distance so I don't really have a target. I have done one race simulation this winter, so I’ll be happy to follow those guys for as long as possible and stay in a decent rhythm and not make mistakes. That is my target.”