Valentino Rossi says Ducati's improving form has opened up the chance of fighting with the MotoGP midfield in Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix.
The Italian is yet to finish higher than ninth in 2012, but he said securing his first third-row start of the season was indicative of set-up gains which he believes have boosted his race prospects.
"The day wasn't bad in the end: we're on the third row, 0.8 seconds behind pole position, and we're matching the pace of the group after the top four," Rossi said. "We've worked better this weekend, steadily making small improvements, and now I'm able to ride closer to the limit and push harder on the bike.
"We loaded the rear of the bike to improve grip, which worked. I'm also doing better on the brakes. We have a lot of other riders who have more or less the same rhythm so tomorrow we can fight during battles."
Rossi said Ducati's main issue was now its acceleration out of every corner, an area in which he is optimistic the Desmosedici can improve.
"Where we lose is acceleration and the tendency to understeer," Rossi explained. "About the acceleration problem I am quite optimistic; about the understeer maybe we need more time
"Tires will be important, because the soft is difficult to manage to the end, whereas with the hard, it's very difficult to push in the beginning. We're leaning toward the soft, but we'll wait for tomorrow to decide."
In contrast to Rossi, Nicky Hayden - fifth and third in the year's first two qualifying sessions - was downbeat about his weekend work.
"Obviously, this isn't where we wanted to be," Hayden said after qualifying behind Rossi for the first time this year.
"I'm one second from the top, which sometimes isn't that far off, but here I'm in 10th place. All weekend, we just haven't been able to find that last little bit, as I've had a lot of little problems.
"Some of my used tires still look like new, but they're just spinning. We've got to sort that out and improve change of direction. We've only got 20 minutes in the morning, but we'll see what we can come up with. It's going to be difficult."