Andrea Dovizioso is not giving up on extending the MotoGP™ title race by a further round despite qualifying down in seventh for the Thailand Grand Prix.
Reigning champion Marc Marquez, who starts third, needs to score two or more points than his Ducati rival in order to claim a sixth world championship in the premier class after a dominant 2019 campaign.
Dovizioso and Marquez were involved in a thrilling battle for victory when the Repsol Honda star triumphed in the first edition of this race in Buriram last year.
And the Italian believes he can be in the mix once again in an unpredictable weekend that has seen Marquez crash twice, pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo go down in qualifying and Dovizioso top the FP3 timesheets amid mixed weather conditions.
Quartararo and Maverick Vinales occupy the front row with Marquez, with Dovizioso also behind Franco Morbidelli, team-mate Danilo Petrucci – who recorded his best qualifying result in nine races – and Jack Miller.
"A lot of riders have really good pace, so it could be a big group in the race because Marc is really fast, but not like in Aragon," said Dovizioso, referring to Marquez's emphatic victory last time out.
"In this kind of race with this heat and with these straights, everything can happen. Maverick and all four Yamahas are also very fast in the pace, Jack can be there like in Aragon and I have a good pace, so we are there.
"The third row is not the best, but we have our chance - we are all very close and it's impossible to know how much everyone pushed, or if they will be a bit slower in the race.
"I am going to try to be on the podium, this is our goal. It should be the soft tyre for more or less everyone.
"For sure you need a good start and after, make a good strategy. We've been working well so I'm relaxed and confident."
Marquez, who is still in pain after his massive turn-seven FP1 smash, is also taking nothing for granted.
"Apart from [the crashes] we prepared for the race in a good way," he said. "The race distance is quite long, demanding physically, but we will try to do our best.
"We will see how the weather is and what the conditions are. I know that as well as [Quartararo and Vinales] that Dovi has a good pace so it will be a tough race."
YAMAHAS LOOK TO STRIKE AMID TITLE DRAMA
While all eyes are on Marquez and Dovizioso, Yamaha riders Quartararo and Vinales will be hoping to push for a race victory despite their single-lap speed being better than it is over a longer distance.
Rookie sensation Quartararo has been formidable in qualifying this season and this pole position, despite crashing in Q2 as he attempted to go even quicker, was his fourth of the campaign.
But the Frenchman's target over the last five races of the season will be a maiden win. As his race experience has grown, he has registered four podiums from the last eight and looks one of Marquez's main threats in the coming years.
"I give 100 per cent in every race so on Sunday it will be the same for me," said Quartararo. "Looking at the race pace [from practice] Marquez is a lot faster than us but we know that in the races it is different.
"We will try to stay with him. If I am there with him we will try everything to fight with him like in Misano. I've felt strong on the bike all weekend, everything is working really well, and I can't wait to see what we can achieve."
VINALES EYEING SECOND 2019 VICTORY
Yamaha have three of the top four riders on the grid and also had four of the first five in Friday's dry practice running, with Vinales now hoping to add to his famous victory at the Dutch TT.
"It is very important from the beginning to push and try to make a small group because if not it will be very difficult with the Ducati guys [coming up from behind]," said Vinales, who was third at Chang International Circuit last year.
"We will try to push from the beginning. In FP4 we made a jump from Friday [in race pace], we improved quite a lot, especially on the rhythm which we will looking to try to improve on, make another step and be closer to Marc.
"We have a good chance, we will push from the first corner and we will see. It will be very important to manage the tyres because normally here the tyres drop quite a lot.
"We are in close contention for the victory. When it comes to one lap, we know our bike is good. There are still some things to improve for the race but I'm feeling great on the bike."
Valentino Rossi went down at turn five in qualifying like Quartararo and Marquez and he starts ninth on the grid, one place ahead of Alex Rins, who sits third in the championship.
1. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha)
2. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha)
3. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda)
4. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)
5. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati)
6. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing)
7. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati)
8. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar)
9. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha)
10. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar)
11. Pol Espargaro (KTM)
12. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team)
2018: Marc Marquez
1. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) 300
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 202 (-98)
3. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 156 (-144)
4. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) 155 (-145)
5. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 147 (-153)
1. Ducati 357
2. Repsol Honda 333 (-24)
3. Monster Energy Yamaha 284 (-73)
4. Suzuki Ecstar 209 (-148)
5. Petronas Yamaha 203 (-154)
Torrential rain early on Saturday delayed the start of the day's racing, but the sun was back out by the time of qualifying.
Stormy weather is a possibility on Sunday, with hot temperatures of over 30 degrees Celcius and high humidity expected, with the chances of rain presently just under 50 per cent.