Qualifying specialist Jorge Martin grabbed pole position for the MotoGP season opener in Qatar as he posted the fastest time in the final session on Saturday.
The Spaniard, on a Pramac Ducati, was joined on the front row by Italian Enea Bastianini for Gresini, which has switched to Ducati bikes this season, and six-times world champion Marc Marquez of Honda.
Martin took four pole positions last year in his rookie MotoGP season.
“I feel good always to be on pole position,” he said. “But I am not 100 per cent happy because I lack a bit of race pace.”
Bastianini pushed his way onto the front row for the first time at this level with a lap that finished after the qualifying time had elapsed.
Marquez, who has a reputation for picking the right wheel to follow in qualifying, made a quick exit from the pits so he could tail Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia round the track for one last tilt at a fast time.
As wind blew dust and sand across the track, the strategy worked.
“With this wind it was important to take somebody as a reference and that’s what I did,” he said. “We start on the front ront row. It’s Saturday. It’s important. But tomorrow is the race.”
Marquez missed the start of last season still rehabbing a badly broken right arm and sat out the end of the campaign with double vision.
“If I’m here, I’m good,” he said ahead of qualifying.
“I’m much better than last year when I was on the sofa,” Marquez he told British broadcaster BT.
“I arrive at an acceptable level. We’ll see at race distance,” he said, adding he had not been able to do any long practice sessions in the close season.
Marquez realistic on season goals
Marquez seemed torn between declaring that he would challenge for another championship and managing expectations, not least his own.
“I want to fight for the title, I cannot lie,” he said, but he added: “This Qatar race, I know I don’t have the performance or I don’t have the level or it’s not the right time to win… but you never know, we’ll see.”
“There are 21 races. It’s a long season. We’ll see.”
Reigning champion Fabio Quartararo will start in 11th position on Sunday, one row behind his closest rival last season Italian Bagnaia, who is in ninth place.
Quartararo only sneaked into final session after being forced into the first qualifying and finishing second fastest to grab the last place in the 12-rider shootout for pole positon.
The champion was consistently fast until the dash for the finish along first part of the 1.068km main straight coming out of the final corner.
Before qualifying, Quartararo again complained about the Yamaha’s lack of top speed.
“My big request was to increase top speed. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that. Let’s see if we can make a small step,” he said, adding that he was “happy” overall with the bike.
The Suzukis, who had dominated practice, had a disappointing qualifying.
Spaniard Joan Mir was eighth and his compatriot Alex Rins was only 10th out of 24.
In Moto2 and Moto3, the first poles of the season went to Italy’s Celestino Vietti (Kalex) and Spain’s Izan Guevara (GASGAS).
Like many sports bodies since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, MotoGP is displaying the words “United for peace” during its television broadcasts.
Several riders are also wearing a “Give peace a chance” sticker on their helmets.
The GP is the first of a record 21-race season climaxing in Valencia, Spain, on November 6.
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