Valentino Rossi made a solid start to the Japanese GP today to finish third quickest on the opening day of a weekend that could see him claim a sixth MotoGP world crown.
Rossi goes into Sunday’s race holding a commanding 87-point lead of closest rival Casey Stoner, and a best time of 1.48.510 in this afternoon’s dry session was just 0.389s adrift of the Aussie.
The Fiat Yamaha rider though expressed some concerns about grip levels in dry conditions after he was second quickest this morning behind American Nicky Hayden.
The 29-year-old said: “Today was a good day for us, especially in the wet. I was fast although we have a bit of a traction problem but Bridgestone’s tyres worked well and already I have quite a good setting for the wet.
"I have some more problems in the dry and it is more difficult because this track is not fantastic for me and also for the M1. Always we suffer too much exiting from the slow hairpins, and to improve the acceleration in slow hairpins and from slow speed is one of the first issues we have to solve on the 2009 M1. The Japanese are motivated and they say it is possible to make better for next year.
"I am third and not so far from Casey and Dani (Pedrosa) and I think we have to do better. If it is dry tomorrow for sure it will be an important day because we have to try a lot of things. This afternoon the conditions were quite bad and the grip was not fantastic. It was tricky to control the bike and it would slide everywhere, so we hope tomorrow it comes better.”
As was revealed by MCN earlier this week, Rossi will make his debut on Yamaha’s 2009 prototype YZR-M1 in a brief test session on Monday.
He told MCN: “It is a 2008.5 bike. It is a prototype but we have three or four things to try on Monday to understand if it is the right way for the 2009 bike that arrives in January. It will be interesting to try here because it is a track where the M1 has had some problems.”
Asked if he could treat this weekend like any other given the fact that he can wrap up an eighth world title, Rossi said: “It is not a regular weekend. When you have the first match point to win the title it is something different, but not now. I think from Saturday night and Sunday morning the pressure will start to become different. I don’t want to say worse because maybe it can be better when you are excited.”