Marquez on pole for season opener

Posted by Amaan Ahmed at 04:13 am on Sunday March 23, 2014

It may be the start of a new season, but Marc Marquez seems intent on picking up where he left off last season. Following nine podiums in his first year as a MotoGP rider, the reigning world champion, not at his 100 per cent because of a dirt bike accident that broke his leg six weeks back, shot to pole towards the end of Q2 in Qatar.

There was a lot of moaning about Open class entrants having an unfair advantage over Factory riders, and you could see why: NGM Racing's Aleix Espargaro, riding a Yamaha M1 that used the same components as Jorge Lorenzo's 2013 bike, set the pace in all three practice sessions. At a time when all the seasoned riders struggled, Espargaro Sr. continued to set the best lap times, but in the process, he now had a bag full of expectations resting on his shoulders. Even Valentino Rossi touted him as a "favourite" for pole position. That, for someone who's used to being resigned to the back of the grid, is a lot to live up to.

And that's what brought him down. Twice, actually. During the 15 minutes of Qualifying, Aleix suffered a low-side after setting a lap time that placed him third on the table. He quickly made his way back to the garage, hopped onto the second bike, tore through three sectors at a pace that suggested that he would take pole, only to fall again, another low-side that saw his Yamaha take some serious damage. The pressure was on Espargaro, and under the circumstances, he cracked. An opportunity missed, but he had no one to blame for it but himself.

A pleasant surprise came in the form of Bradley Smith - after being launched skywards by his Yamaha in FP3, the Brit came back strongly to land his first-ever front row start, behind Gresini Honda's Alvaro Bautista, who looked set for pole before Marquez went out for one final run and snatched first place from him with a blistering lap. This, with an as-yet unhealed leg. Sensational stuff.

Ducati made the switch to being a part-Open class team, and Andrea Dovizioso took full advantage of the extra fuel, softer rear tyre to qualify in fourth. Team-mate Cal Crutchlow, however, could only finish eighth fastest. Sandwiched between the two Ducatis are Jorge Lorenzo (who must be glad to have taken fifth after having struggled for pace all weekend), Dani Pedrosa and Stefan Bradl. A. Espargaro, despite the crashes, will start ninth, ahead of Valentino Rossi. The two debutants, 2013 Moto2 champion Pol Espargaro and 2013 Moto2 runner-up Scott Redding couldn't make it to the top 10 riders, with Redding having suffered a traction control sensor malfunction.

One thing's for certain - the gap between Factory and Open Class bikes is now negligible. In fact, Lorenzo has gone on to say that Open class bikes have "too much of an advantage" over their factory counterparts. Will Marquez be able to win with a wonky leg? Will Bradley Smith pick up his first-ever premier class win? Or will Espargaro land the first surprise of 2014? Should be a crackerjack, this.

Qualifying:
1. Marc Marquez
2. Alvaro Bautista
3. Bradley Smith
4. Andrea Dovizioso
5. Jorge Lorenzo
6. Dani Pedrosa
7. Stefan Bradl
8. Cal Crutchlow
9. Aleix Espargaro
10. Valentino Rossi
11. Andrea Iannone
12. Pol Espargaro
13. Nicky Hayden
14. Colin Edwards
15. Hiroshi Aoyama    
16. Scott Redding
17. Yonny Hernandez
18. Karel Abraham
19. Hector Barbera
20. Danilo Petrucci
21. Broc Parkes
22. Mike Di Meglio
23. Michael Laverty

TAGS// qatar, dani pedrosa, jorge lorenzo, aleix espargaro, valentino rossi, marc marquez, moto gp, motogp

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