Twenty-two years after his inaugural 125cc Grand Prix victory at Automotodrom Brno, Valentino Rossi will make his 375th career start on Sunday, bookended on the front row of the grid by pole-position winner Andrea Dovizioso and championship leader Marc Márquez.

Rossi was seated at Saturday’s post-qualifying press conference beside his brother, Luca Marini, who earlier in the day earned his first Moto2 pole riding for Sky Racing Team VR46. Marini, 20, was not born when Rossi took his maiden win at Brno.

“It’s a great moment for us—for our family, also for my mother,” Rossi said, grinning proudly. “I’m so happy for Luca because in the last three races he improved very much. It will be very important if he can be competitive and fight for the podium.”

Fifth in FP1 on soft/medium slicks and seventh in FP2 on medium/medium and medium/soft rubber, Rossi rocketed to the top of the timing screen late in FP3 with a used medium front and a new soft rear, having spent most of the session on a medium front and a hard rear.

“During practice, I struggled,” Rossi admitted. “My pace, unfortunately, is not very strong. We tried to understand different things about the bike, especially the different combinations of tires, front and rear. We made a lot of tests but, in general, we are not very fast.”

About his quick lap in qualifying, the Movistar Yamaha rider said, “Already from yesterday but especially this morning, I know that I have a good lap with new tires. I’m happy because my lap time—1:54.956—is good. I rode very much at the limit without making any mistakes.

Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso expects to use Ducati’s latest aero fairing (older version shown) on Sunday in the race. “The difference is not clear,” the Brno pole-position winner admitted. “It’s always difficult when you try something like that. It looks a bit better on the braking—maybe.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

“Considering we are not fantastic in race pace, it is even more important to start from the front row. I’m in the middle of Dovi and Marc, the two guys with better pace. It will be important to stay with them at the beginning and see what happens during the race.”

Dovizioso’s weekend has been much different, almost opposite that of Rossi. “I’m happier about the lap time I did than the pole position,” he said. “I never did a lot of pole positions in my career; it’s not my style. In the way we did the lap, the pole position is important.”

The 32-year-old factory Ducati rider went on to say he didn’t have any other riders in front of him on his near-record 1:54.689 lap, set on a racetrack with a tire-cooking 122-degree surface temperature. This is Dovizioso’s sixth pole in the premier class.

“I was able to push hard and make a really good lap time,” he said. “It was very hot—difficult to go under 1:55—but the bike worked very well. I was able to be smooth, brake really hard, and use the potential of the new soft tire.”

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi (46) has seven victories at the Czech track, but the 39-year-old Italian hasn't finished first at the 14-turn, 3.36-mile circuit since 2009. “Brno is similar to Mugello,” he said. “I liked this track from the beginning—very flowing, a lot of chicanes.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Dovizioso’s pole lap was the culmination of steady progress throughout the race weekend. “We started on Friday with good speed,” he said. “That helped us to be able to put a lot of laps on the rear tire for the race. That is the key, as everybody knows.”

The Italian also admitted that he put more than race distance—21 laps—on two tires. “We did everything we could for the race,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be enough, but I have good confidence. Our bike works well at this track; this is important to be consistently fast.”

Sunday’s race will be Dovizioso’s 100th GP with Ducati, while the 25-year-old Márquez will contest his 100th premier-class race. “I’m happy because the main target was the front row,” Márquez said. “I already knew before the qualifying that it would be difficult.

“With a new tire, also the electronic—the base map is really the race map, and we didn’t make any special modifications—maybe with the soft tire we need something more in a few places. Apart from that, we did a great job, especially in FP4.”

Marc Márquez
Marc Márquez has three wins at Brno—two in MotoGP, one in Moto2. Dovizioso has been second four times across three classes but never won. “We’re missing a little bit in a single lap with the new tire,” Márquez said, “but I feel more comfortable when the tires start to drop.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Márquez was picture perfect in that 30-minute session, his second run in particular. He completed six consecutive laps on hard front and rear tires within four-tenths of a second of each other: 1:56.149, 1:56.411, 1:56.421, 1:56.605, 1:56.607, 1:56.389.

“This is a circuit where normally we suffer a little bit, but even like this, we are close to the fastest guy, who, for me, is Dovi. We will try to fight for the victory and, of course, if it’s not possible, try to finish on the podium.

“A few riders have a good pace. Dovi worked with a lot of laps on the tires, and then, when he put in a new tire, he was fast. Both Ducati riders are fast, [Andrea] Iannone will be fast, and Valentino—on paper, he is a little bit far—on Sunday is always there.

“It will be a tough race but the most important thing is to be there. This championship is really long. Tomorrow’s race will be very long and also hot, so it’s important to be there and then fight until the end.”

Sunday is expected to be another scorcher, so tire choice will be critical. “If you go with the soft, you are faster at the beginning but, for me, difficult to arrive at the end,” Rossi said. “If we have less temperature, maybe it’s easier. I will decide tomorrow.”