MotoGP: Rossi ready to regain place as lead contender

Italian optimistic about being competitive at opening race

MotoGP: Rossi ready to regain place as lead contender

Rome, March 29 - Valentino Rossi is optimistic he will resume his place among MotoGP's leading contenders when the 2013 season kicks off in nine days' time at the Qatar Grand Prix. After returning to former team Yamaha following two winless seasons at Ducati, the nine-time world champion is keen to prove he is not past it. The outcome of the pre-season tests suggest that the 34-year-old is right. He was consistently among the frontrunners in the first set of pre-season tests in Malaysia in February. On the penultimate day of the last set of tests in Jerez, Spain, he hit the top of the timesheets last weekend for the first time in two years. It was seen by some as a sign that a new chapter had begun in his career. Unlike Ducati during his spell with them, Yamaha appear to have prepared a competitive bike for Rossi and his teammate, Spain's reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, with the YZR-M1. Experts say the impression is that the YZR-M1 has an strong chassis and is good to ride, although it may have some ground to make up on the Honda factory team bike that Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez will use in terms of engine power. "The feeling is generally ok," Rossi said at the end of the Jerez test. "I was competitive in difficult conditions and also made good lap times with the used tyre," added the rider, who won four of his seven premium-class world titles during his first stint at Yamaha between 2004 and 2009. "The new chassis has some good and bad points. I am happy about the test. "I was competitive so I think we can be competitive for the first race in Qatar too". Rossi is second in the all-time race-win standings with 105 victories and he will be looking this season to made inroads into the lead of his compatriot Giacomo Agostini, who won 122 grands prix in various classes in the 1960s and 70s. However, he has played down hopes that he might start the 2013 campaign with a win. "I'd make do with being up front with Lorenzo and the Hondas to fight for the podium," Rossi said. "It'll be an important championship with real races. "Every time it's a test. Even though I've won nine world titles and 105 races, I'm always under examination, maybe more than the others. "If you have a bad test ride, you are immediately considered old, but that's sport". Rossi finished the Jerez test second fastest in the combined times, one place ahead of Lorenzo, who was quickest on day one but spent the next two days working on honing his skills at delivering pace over distance. Britain's Cal Crutchlow, who rides for the Yamaha satellite Tech 3 Team, came top. "The winter tests are now done, we have done a good job and we can start the season in the best way," said Yamaha Factory Racing Team Director Massimo Meregalli. "We achieved most of our targets and I think we finished Jerez with Yamaha top three leading the practices which means the package is really good. "We are looking forward to Qatar and we are ready to fight".

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