Marco Simoncelli's team boss Fausto Gresini says his rider is ready to play a big part in this year's MotoGP championship after coming close to pole position at Estoril today.
Although the Italian is yet to finish on the podium in MotoGP, he has been in increasingly impressive form in recent races, leading until crashing in the wet at Jerez earlier this month, and then dominating Friday practice in Portugal this weekend. Simoncelli then looked set for pole before falling when attempting to fight back having been deposed by Jorge Lorenzo. He was still able to hang on to second on the grid.
Gresini admitted that the accident had been frustrating, but said it did not dent his confidence that Simoncelli can fight for victory tomorrow.
"We have had two fantastic days here so far and now we just have the race to go," said Gresini. "Marco has been strong throughout and showed his progress once again.
"Everybody is really enthusiastic and the only downside today was the crash that prevented him from improving his time and I'm sure from setting pole position. Anyway, it's all part of the game and the important thing is that we know he can have a good race tomorrow and be fighting for the win."
The Gresini team has not won a MotoGP race since Toni Elias' triumph at Estoril in 2006 - which was also the last time a non-works team took a grand prix victory, although Simoncelli is riding a factory-spec bike.
Gresini said Simoncelli's current form showed that his team was set for its best season in years.
"Our moment to believe has come," the team boss declared. "Everything is in place for us to take a major role in the championship."