BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez last night tore the free practice script by grabbing the pole position for today’s Grand Prix of Qatar after chief rival Aleix Espargaro suffered two crashes in the second qualifying session.
Marquez led a Honda 1-2 by clocking the fastest time of 1:54.507 for his 10th career pole position in just his second year in the MotoGP class.
The 21-year-old Spaniard finished ahead of compatriot Alvaro Bautista, of GO&FUN Honda Gresini, and Britain’s Bradley Smith, who brought delight in the Yamaha camp by grabbing the third spot on grid one.
Bautista’s best time was 1:54.564 while Smith impressed with 1:54.601.
Clicking a speed of 338.6kms, Marquez, 21, reserved the best seat in the house by claiming his maiden pole at Qatar’s imposing Losail Circuit.
“Honestly, this pole position makes me happy,” Marquez, who suffered a broken leg six weeks ago, said. “It was so difficult because when I arrived here I was coming back after an injury,” he added.
“When I got on the bike, the feeling was great. Tomorrow is important because when I do many laps, I get tired. I cannot push with the leg.
“Anyway, I will try to do my best and take some points,” Marquez said.
Bautista, 29, failed to add to his solitary career pole by just 0.057 seconds.
“For me, this is a like a pole position because I was fast. I was feeling good on the bike,” Bautista said. “I am looking forward to tomorrow and I hope I can enjoy the weekend.
“Hopefully I can be on the podium. I know it will be difficult but I will try,” Bautista told reporters. Smith, 23, will be eyeing his first career win from the front row today.
“I was definitely not sure that I would be here after the crash yesterday (Friday). But for some reason we turned up at the race track today,” Smith said.
“I was very confident in the free practice. I had two strong laps in the first qualifying and then me Marc and Aleix (Espargaro) had a bit of a cat-and-mouse. I didn’t want the tires to get cold so I am pleased to hang on to the third spot and I am very excited for the race,” he added.
With Marquez camp celebrating a pole position, there was disappointment for the backroom staff in the Espargaro garage after the 24-year-old crashed two times in the space of just a few minutes.
The Open Forward Yamaha rider eventually finished ninth (1:54.986) on the timesheet and back on row three for the season opener today.
Espargaro, who had topped the times in the first three free practice sessions on Thursday and Friday, lost the front end at Turn 6 with nine minutes of the second qualifying remaining.
The Spaniard hurried back to the paddock and charged out on his second bike, but disaster struck again for 24-year-old as he slipped for the second time.
A visibly upset Espargaro punched the gravel with both hands before being given a regular bike ride by a steward.
Meanwhile, another solid run for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) helped the Italian to seal a place on the second row (1:54.644).
Former world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, 1:54.661) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team, 1:54.703) secured the fifth and sixth spots respectively having struggled for much of the weekend so far.
Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) is in the third row with a time just 0.364s off the pace set by Marquez.
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team, 1:54.888)) was eight fastest after two qualifying sessions held under lights.
MotoGP star and veteran rider Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, 1:55.096) will start today’s first race of the new season in unfamiliar territory of row four. Rossi is ahead of Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing, 1:55.127) and Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech3, 1:55.152).
Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar, 1:55.894), Colin Edwards (Forwad Yamaha, 1:56.042) and Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda, 1:56.479) will start from row five.