'I can fight' says happy Rossi
“We can fight for some important results, because I am fast and competitive” – Valentino Rossi.
Valentino Rossi completed an inspiring Yamaha MotoGP return by moving up to third place on the final day of the opening 2013 test.
Denied dry track time by bad weather last November, Sepang effectively marked Rossi's much-anticipated return to the YZR-M1 - a bike the Italian won four of his seven MotoGP titles with, before pursing an ill-fated new challenge at Ducati.
Having achieved just three podiums in the last two seasons - and not a single front row start - one of the first questions Rossi wanted to answer was his own potential as a rider.
The outcome was positive. The Italian set competitive lap times from the start and concluded the opening day in fourth place, less than half-a-second from Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa.
Rossi's remaining fear was that he might drop away due to the rate of improvement by Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo as the test went on.
Instead Rossi raised his pace by the same proportion to peg the gap to Pedrosa at 0.4s over all three days. World champion team-mate Lorenzo finished just 0.113s ahead of Rossi, in terms of best lap time.
"I'm very happy," declared Rossi, speaking inside the Yamaha hospitality area at Sepang. "I cannot expect a better start to this new adventure because the first test for us is so positive.
"I had some doubts. I didn't know how competitive I could be and at the end of these three days I am a lot more happy and relaxed.
"I think we can fight for some important results, because I am fast and competitive."
As an added bonus, Rossi was able to gain one position on the final day timesheets, moving ahead of Pedrosa's rookie team-mate Marc Marquez for third overall.
"All these three days were positive, but today was the best - firstly because I am third and not fourth on the timesheet. So I am hypothetically on the front row!
"It's been a lifetime. Usually in the past two years I've been fighting for the third or fourth row [in qualifying], so it would be exciting to start in the first row this year!
"Also the lap time is getting better and I always improved, just like the top guys. My distance from the 'pole position' is 0.4s. It's good and I'm very happy about this."
Rossi made clear that Pedrosa and Lorenzo are still in a class of their own, but catching them has at least become a realistic target for the 33-year-old.
"For sure I have a lot of work still to do, especially to stay with Lorenzo and Pedrosa," Rossi warned.
"Jorge did a great race simulation, at a very high level and he rides so well. If I had tried to do a race simulation today I could not go as fast as him.
"But anyway to start the season with the potential, and the target, to try to improve enough to fight with Pedrosa and Lorenzo is already a good step."
Turning to technical matters, Rossi stated that he felt the latest M1 developments offered an improvement, but that he is not yet in a position to make too many requests.
"Today we tried the new bike. A different specification that we will use this season and the new bike is a bit faster than the old," he said.
"This is very important because in the second part of last year Lorenzo was struggling against the Hondas. We need something more to fight with the Honda and it looks like Yamaha are working in the right way.
"But for me it is not the time to say I need something better from the bike. I just need to do more kilometres because we can improve my feeling with the M1 and the way to ride.
"Anyway we have time and now we have to continue like this."
Both Rossi and Lorenzo are pushing Yamaha to build a seamless shift gearbox, as used by Honda and Ducati, but are unsure if this will be possible.
The next Sepang test takes place from February 26-28.
Rossi and Lorenzo will then join Honda at a private test at the new Austin circuit from March 12-14, before the third and final official pre-season outing is held at Jerez from March 23-25.