Nothing could stop Marc Marquez from taking his 50th premier-class pole – not even a tumble in the morning that meant he had to join the lesser riders in Q1 for only the fourth time in his career.
The Repsol Honda rider had run out of time in the crucial Saturday morning FP3 after problems with one of his bikes, and then slipped off trying to make up for it at the finish. “This can happen, when you are working for the race,” he explained.
Naturally enough he smashed it in Q1, going even faster than he managed in the subsequent Q2. But his second-session was still good enough to stay an eye-blink one-hundredth clear of the best of the rest.
Best of the rest? Valentino Rossi, belying the slump afflicting Yamaha, as he and MoviStar Yamaha team-mate Maverick Vinales have been rapid throughout, at a track which on paper (as Rossi said on Thursday) “does not suit our bike”.
Having proved the opposite, he said: “I felt good on the bike from yesterday, and today we did a modification and followed the right way. It looks like at this track we can use the tyres in the right way, and in FP4 I also did a good race pace.”
Last on the front row was Andrea Dovizioso’s factory Ducati, after being on top in free practice. He was just over a tenth down on pole, and laughing at the previous assumption that this was obviously a Ducati track. “It is normal for the competitors to say something like that.” The first part, with long straights and slow corners, was good for the bike, he admitted, but the second more technical section not so much. “It’s strange. You have to keep a lot of angle, and the consumption of the tyre is really high.”
Times have been close throughout in the first time at the baking-hot 4.554-km Chang circuit outside Buriram in the north-east of Thailand; with Q2’s top 12 inside nine tenths of a second, with pole at 1’30.088.
Vinales moved through at the finish to lead row two ahead of Cal Crutchlow’s LCR Honda and Andrea Iannone, on the better of the Ecstar Suzukis. Dani Pedrosa, whose Repsol Honda had set the pace at pre-season tests, was seventh, less than four tenths slower than his team-mate, ahead of Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha) and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Ducati).
Second Pramac rider Jack Miller had led the list at one point, but ended up tenth, heading row four from Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati).
Franco Morbidelli (ED-VDS Honda) was best of the rest, deposed from a trip from Q1 to Q2 only at the last gasp by Rins.
Ultra-close times in a a hard-fought Moto2 session put no less than 19 riders inside just over half-a-second, with positions decided by mere hundredths.
Less than three hundredths, for pole position, set for a second time this season by Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40 Kalex), early in a session in which, unusually for the middle class, most riders kept getting quicker.
It was just good enough to survive a late assault by Luca Marini (SK VR46 Kalex); then in the dying seconds Alex Marquez (EG-VDS Kalex) slipped in between to the middle of the front row.
This foiled yesterday’s leader Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex), who slipped off on his own attempt at pole, but heads row two.
Alongside him, the two title rivals, with Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) a tantalising two thousandths quicker than points leader Pecco Bagnaia (SKY VR46 Kalex.
Aragon winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) heads row three from Catalunya winner Fabio Quartararo (Speed Up) and second Team Pons rider Augusto Fernandez. Fancied runners Schrotter, Mir and Lecuona are right behind.
Australian Remy Gardner (Tech 3) is 19th, 0.559 off pole; American Joe Roberts (NTS) a close 22nd.
Times were close also in Moto3 – but only for those pursuing pole qualifier Marco Bezzecchi (Redox KTM). The Italian erstwhile championship leader was all but half a second clear of Spanish teenager Jaume Masia (Bester Capital KTM); but from him to 24th was covered by one second.
It was Bezzecchi’s second pole of the year, and once again taking profit from his main title rival Jorge Martin’s problem. The Spanish Del Conca Honda rider was suffering from a recurrence of left wrist problems, an oblique legacy of the crash back at Brno that cost him the title lead to Bezzecchi after the summer break.
With Kazuki Masaki (RBA KTM) third on an all-KTM front row; and Toni Arbolino (Marinelli Honda), Nico Antonelli (SIC58 Honda) and a best-this-year Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM) filling row two, Martin was mired on the fifth row, 13th fastest.
He blamed a medical mishap that had caused debilitating inflammation. “Yesterday the Clinica touched a nerve that shouldn’t have been touched. I cannot open my hand now, so I can’t change gears as I’d like to. If it does not improve Imight have to sit out the race,” said a dismayed Martin.
He currently leads Bezzecchi by just 13 points.
By Michael Scott