Valentino Rossi's confidence that he will be challenging at the front on the Ducati GP11 machine in the early part of the new MotoGP season grew in Sepang today, despite the Italian finishing the opening day down in ninth position.
With his right shoulder markedly improved from the opening Sepang test earlier this month and his riding style becoming more accustomed to the specific demands of the Desmosedici GP11, Rossi was in the top six for most of a baking hot opening day in Sepang, Rossi, who turned 32 last week, eventually had to settle for the ninth best time having resisted the temptation to run a soft compound Bridgestone tyre when track temperature was significantly cooler in the latter part of the day.
The nine-times world champion said: "I am really happy. We started from the lap time from the last day of the last test and this means that we have improved a lot. My shoulder is also a bit better and I can ride in a better way. I am still far away from being fully fit but the improvement is clear from the last test and the bike has improved also. We have decided in which way to work because we had some doubt between two different settings and today one bike was a lot faster than the other one."
Two of the biggest improvements of the day came with turning performance and key suspension changes allowed Rossi to post competitive times on the hard compound Bridgestone rear tyre option.
At the last Malaysia test, Rossi couldn't get the harder tyre to work at all and rode most of the time on the softer option But he told MCN: "The bike turns better but it is not enough because we can make it even better. But I am so happy about the hard tyres. Now we can use the hard tyre like Honda and Yamaha and this is great because in the long races in hot conditions we need the hard tyre and I was a bit worried at the last test about this matter. We modified the bike at the rear and it is still not fantastic but at the last test it was a disaster."
Despite his obvious delight at being in better physical shape, Rossi was still 1.012s adrift of Aussie rival Stoner, who headed the leaderboard with a best time of 2.00.987 on the impressive new Honda RC212V.
Stoner though used a soft Bridgestone tyre while Rossi didn't having tired dramatically towards the end of the day after he completed 53-laps.
He added: "We still have a lot of work to do but I am quite confident because at the end everybody tried for the time attack. But I didn't try because I was quite tired but if I went for the time attack with the softer tyre, I am sure I can arrive much closer to the top."