Valentino Rossi is confident he has found the pace required to compete with Movistar Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in Sunday's Japanese MotoGP.
The Italian finished second behind Lorenzo in Saturday's qualifying, with only 0.081s separating the two riders.
Rossi was trailing by as much as eighth tenths during Friday's practice sessions, but is now feeling much more confident of protecting his 14-point championship lead come Sunday.
“Today is a positive day for me because already in the morning we did a step and I was quite happy, but it wasn't enough and we did the most important step in the afternoon,” said Rossi.
“We tried to control all the data and to make the right choice because now is so important and the bike worked a lot better. FP4 is always a very important practice to understand the pace that everyone will do in a race situation.
“I am happy because in the last two exits I was strong and my lap time was not so bad with the used tyre, which means that we can be strong,” he added.
“I start for the qualifying very positively because I feel good with the bike and I think we did a good strategy; I was in the right place and especially when I saw 1'43.8 I thought it was enough for the pole and I saw the number 46 in first position, so I was very happy but when I arrived in parc ferme my mechanics said 'second'.
“But anyway it is a good result because I am very close to Jorge [Lorenzo], who is always very strong in qualifying and also in this race track. The lap time was very fast, which means the bike improved a lot and we can ride at 100 per-cent.”
Crucial for Rossi was securing a front row start and not having to worry about passing any of the Honda or Ducati riders in the opening laps.
“All the top six riders are very strong and we need to understand tomorrow the pace of the Hondas and also of the Ducati, because they are very fast with both riders, especially [Andrea] Iannone – he is very fast also in the practice,” Rossi said.
“It is so important to start in front and last year I started in second place and I arrived first in the first corner. I did some good laps but after, Jorge was stronger than me, so now the target for tomorrow is to try to fight with him until the end of the race.”
All in all, Rossi believes he now finds himself 'in the right place' at the right time.
"The strategy is important; a lot of the time I have been in the same situation as Jorge, to do a good lap but bring three or four in my slipstream and bring them in front of me," he added.
"With this style of qualifying you have to be very concentrated with the eyes open for what is happening. I think it is normal, it has already happened a lot of times and this time I was lucky to be in the right place.
"Anyway, after I know that I can do a little bit better and I was able to improve my lap time but unfortunately I was very excited on my out lap because I think that I could do the pole position."