Words by Dan Gruchala
After dominating the time sheets during the private Austin test only a few weeks ago, it was clear the Repsol Honda machines of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa stood ready to do well when it came time to qualify for the race at the same Circuit of the Americas.
The question leading into round 2 of the MotoGP series then, was just how well?
Could Marquez, a notoriously aggressive rider, continue the blistering pace he exhibited throughout the test while staying on top of his bike for a full three days including five practice sessions? In Saturday morning’s practice session—the final free practice before qualifying—Marquez suffered a nasty-looking highside when his rear tire lost traction on the cold track.
After getting a lift back to the garage and taking a few minutes to collect himself, Marquez went back out on his second bike and set what was then the fastest lap of the weekend with a 2:04.795. Only a few laps later, Pedrosa was able to post a 2:04.408, a time that stood unchallenged until the end of the session. Still, it was the only one of the five sessions in which Marquez did not post the fastest time.
When it came time to qualify, Marquez once again took control as he posted a 2:03.021 to earn himself the top spot on the grid. His pole position win in only the second round of his rookie season comes with an added bonus: the 20-year-old Marquez is now the youngest MotoGP rider to ever qualify on pole.
Counting the three sessions of the private test, Marquez has led seven of eight sessions at the brand new Circuit of the Americas. Though he is young, inexperienced and—some would argue—reckless, to bet against Marquez claiming his first premier-class victory in Austin would be unwise.
Behind Pedrosa, who qualified in second place only two-and-a-half tenths behind his teammate, is a not altogether happy Jorge Lorenzo.
Both Lorenzo and his Yamaha factory teammate, Valentino Rossi, have complained of a lack of rear grip throughout the weekend.
Last week in Qatar, Lorenzo got away cleanly from pole position and led the entire race without ever being challenged.
When the red lights go out in Austin, we will get our first look at how the 2013 version of Jorge Lorenzo does in a fight, as he is unlikely to beat both of the Repsol Hondas into Turn 1.
Yamaha Tech 3 satellite team rider Cal Crutchlow continued his impressive early-season showing by qualifying fourth-fastest despite not attending the private test. LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, who finished fifth-fastest, did attend the test. Either one, or both, of these two riders have the pace to end up on the podium.
Factory Ducati rider, Andrea Dovizioso and Go & Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista both impressed with their sixth- and seventh-fastest times, respectively.
Valentino Rossi will start from the third row for the second consecutive race after posting the eighth-fastest time. This time, however, the Yamaha’s rear grip issues will likely keep The Doctor off of the podium.
After a thrilling battle with Valentino Rossi in Qatar, Marquez appears poised to take his first premier-class victory. However, both Pedrosa, and to a lesser extent Lorenzo, are certainly capable of spoiling his plans.
Qualifying Results/Starting Grid:
1. Marc Marquez
2. Dani Pedrosa
3. Jorge Lorenzo
4. Cal Crutchlow
5. Stefan Bradl
6. Andrea Dovizioso
7. Alvaro Bautista
8. Valentino Rossi
9. Aleix Espargaro
10. Nicky Hayden
11. Bradley Smith
12. Ben Spies
13. Andrea Iannone
14. Randy de Puniet
15. Hector Barbera
16. Yonny Hernandez
17. Michael Laverty
18. Colin Edwards
19. Claudio Corti
20. Danilo Petrucci
21. Hiroshi Aoyama
22. Bryan Staring
23. Lukas Pesek
24. Blake Young