Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo think their advantage over the rest of the field has evaporated in recent races and expect Casey Stoner, in particular, will be hard to beat in Australia.
The Yamaha duo have won 10 of this year's 14 races between them and are fighting for the championship with three rounds to go, but while Lorenzo dominated at Estoril a fortnight ago, Rossi was pushed back to fourth behind Ducati rider Stoner and Honda's Dani Pedrosa. With Stoner now back to full fitness after an illness-plagued year, Rossi thinks the Australian is likely to start taking points off the title rivals – especially on home ground at Phillip Island this weekend.
"Especially in the last race in Portugal, all three [Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa] had a great, great race with a high level of pace," said Rossi. "So it looks like Stoner and Pedrosa are also in great shape for this race – especially Casey, who has won the last two races here at Phillip Island and it's his home grand prix, so for sure that's extra motivation."
Lorenzo agreed that Yamaha would not have the battle for victory all to itself in Australia.
"For sure they are also really fast, especially Casey at this track," he said. "This track is very positive for the Ducati."
Rossi is not sure whether Stoner and Pedrosa's pace will help or hinder his efforts to keep Lorenzo at bay in the world championship - but said his Estoril result proved that the Yamaho duo could not afford any weaknesses now that their rivals were on the same pace.
"It's possible that it can be an advantage, but also a disadvantage like in Portugal," he said of Stoner and Pedrosa's improvement. "Now if you don't work at the maximum in practice and you are not at 100 percent for the race, it's possible to finish in fourth position and lose a lot of points. We have to stay concentrated, use all the practice to set up the bike, understand where we have to improve."
The gap between the Yamaho pair in the championship had reached 50 points after Lorenzo crashed at Brno, but it is now down to 18 with three races remaining.