Valentino Rossi could barely contain his delight after he finished the Sepang MotoGP test with the third best time on his much anticipated return to Yamaha’s factory squad.
After a disastrous two-year spell with Ducati, Rossi answered questions about whether he was still fast enough to challenge dominant Spanish duo Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo in emphatic fashion in Malaysia.
The nine-times world champion set a best time of 2.00.542 to finish just 0.113s behind teammate Lorenzo and just over 0.4s behind Dani Pedrosa, who topped the timesheets on each day during the opening test of 2013.
Rossi was beaming during his media debrief tonight having proven that he is still a major force to be reckoned with in MotoGP, despite a nightmare stint at Ducati that saw him score just three podium finishes in 35 races.
The 33-year-old said: “I am happy. I could not have expected a better start to this new adventure because the first test for us is so positive. I had some doubt. I didn't know how competitive I could be and at the end of these three days I am a lot more relaxed because I think I can fight for some important results.
I am fast and competitive. All three days were positive but the third day was the best one firstly because I am third, not fourth so I am hypothetically on the front row if the race is tomorrow! Usually last year I was fighting for the third or the fourth row and it would be exciting to start in the first row.
Also the lap time was coming better and I was always improving and my distance from the pole position is 0.4s. I am happy or this.”
Rossi though acknowledged that bridging the gap to Pedrosa and Lorenzo will be a tough challenge as he attempts to add to his 46 career wins at Yamaha when the new season gets underway in Qatar on April 7.
Rossi said: “We have work to do, especially to stay with Lorenzo and Pedrosa. And especially Jorge at the end because he did a great race simulation, a very high level, very high speed and constant and he rode so well.
If I tried today to do a simulation for sure I cannot go fast like him, so I have to work. But starting the season with the potential to improve to fight with Lorenzo and Pedrosa is already a good step."
Rossi said his motivation had soared 1000 times as a result of his confidence restoring display in Sepang and when asked by MCN how it felt to be so competitive again, he added: “It is another world and like I am doing another sport.
When you start you know it will be very hard but I can start the championship with the target to maybe fight with Lorenzo and Pedrosa. In terms of motivation this is 1000 times more than 2011 and 2012 when I knew I could maximum fight for sixth place."
See more from Rossi in an 11-page Sepang test special that will feature in the February 13 issue of Motor Cycle News.