Marc Marquez will start from pole for the 65th time in his Grand Prix career tomorrow at Phillip Island, after a tricky day that was once again affected by rain.
After Friday’s first practice session turned into a washout and the afternoon’s session was cancelled due to the weather, the third practice session on Saturday morning was extended to give the riders enough track time. The track started damp and the rain soon returned.
Marquez ran an intermediate front tyre and slick rear to secure his passage into Q2 at the top of the times, while other big names were left stranded on the wrong side of the top 10 cut-off.
Before the qualifying started there was another rain-affected practice session for the premier class, which saw action being red flagged on safety grounds before Nicky Hayden, who is standing in for the injured Dani Pedrosa, headed the timesheets with Marquez in second.
The first qualifying session received slightly more attention than normal simply because of who was in it. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Maverick Vinales and Cal Crutchlow all had to fight it out for just two places.
It was no longer raining but there were still quite large patches of standing water as the riders headed out. Crutchlow moved into the top spot early on and no-one could challenge him, with second place being the main battleground for Lorenzo, Rossi, Smith and Vinales. As Crutchlow continued to improve his time, putting him over 3 seconds clear of the man in second place, tyres were playing their part. Rossi had slotted an intermediate into the rear of his Yamaha M1 but his strategy didn’t work, as it seemed he just left it too late to warm up the rubber.
With crashes from Bradley Smith, Loris Baz and Yonny Hernandez, it was Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo that secured the top two spots to move into Q2, while Maverick Vinales will start from 13th tomorrow and Valentino Rossi from 15th.
For the start of Q2, everyone chose intermediates and were keen to get going, after a notice was put out warning of heavy rain within 15 minutes. Without even setting a time Marquez, Miller and Petrucci came back to the pits for a change of rubber. Miller went back out with the front intermediate still in place but now paired with a slick rear, while Marc Marquez swapped over to full slicks.
Crutchlow briefly held the top spot, before Andrea Dovizioso took over as Marc Marquez started his first timed lap, while Pol Espargaro pulled into the pits to also swap to slicks front and rear.
Being the first to go to slicks turned out to be the perfect strategy from Marquez as his first timed lap took him to the top of the standings before he then improved it a further three times for a pole time of 1’30.189.
Crutchlow and Pol briefly swapped second and third, with Miller also popping into the top three, before the Australian was pushed down to fifth by first Pol and then the second Espargaro brother Aleix.
For Jorge Lorenzo, despite making it through to Q2 it clearly wasn’t his day as he continued to struggle with the tyres and conditions, finishing the day with a grid position of 12th, just one row ahead of his team-mate Valentino Rossi and Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales.
After two rain hit days in Australia, race day should be dry, which will give the riders plenty of work to do in an extended warm-up session as they look to perfect a dry setup that they’ve only been briefly acquainted with so far this weekend.
With his strong pace in all the conditions that have been thrown at him so far, Marc Marquez has to be the favourite to take victory on the island tomorrow, but second-placed Crutchlow could provide quite a fight and the Spaniard still expects the Yamahas of Rossi and Lorenzo to make their presence known once they’ve worked their way up the grid.
The Espargaro brothers will need to be watched; Aleix had been feeling confident about Suzukis prospects this weekend and with his team-mate so far behind he’ll want to talk full advantage, while Pol showed his pace in securing a front row start.
But there is one thing that no-one will want to see tomorrow afternoon, and that’s the rain flag.