PHILLIP ISLAND: Masterful world champion Marc Marquez conquered tricky conditions to storm to a fifth straight Australian Moto GP pole on Saturday and maintain his dominance of the sport.
The super-consistent Honda star clocked a fastest lap of one minute, 29.199 seconds around the demanding 4.4-kilometre Phillip Island circuit on a day of intermittent sunshine and showers.
Maverick Vinales, who finished on the podium last year, was 0.310 off the pace and will begin Sunday’s race from second with fellow Yamaha rider Johann Zarco in third.
Italy’s Andrea Iannone, who dominated the free practice sessions, another Suzuki rider Alex Rins and local hope Jack Miller (Ducati) fill out the second row of the grid.
Veteran Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), and Ducati duo Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso are behind them.
Drops of rain started to fall as the qualifying session began, causing headaches over tyre choice. While it didn’t last long, it meant the riders pushed hard early on to get quick laps in before the weather changed again.
Marquez soon set a benchmark time before Iannone went faster.
The Italian was then ousted by Zarco before the world champion asserted his authority again and no one could catch him as rain blighted the final minutes.
“I was doing quick laps, the corners were really fast and there were small drops of rain on my visor. It was hard and I just tried to take care,” said Marquez.
“Tomorrow it will be important to make the right rear tyre choice. It’s normally a long and difficult race and we will need to manage the tyres and hopefully fight for the podium.”
Despite being in dominant form and clinching his fifth pole position of the year, Marquez doesn’t consider himself favourite to win at Phillip Island for a third time.
“Iannone. He has more speed,” he said when asked to nominate who had the edge.
The Spaniard, who has an insurmountable 102-point lead from Dovizioso at the top of the standings, is defending his Australian title after winning last year ahead of Rossi.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. He came off his bike again on Saturday in morning practice, but was unhurt.
Remarkably for the world champion, he is the most crashed rider of 2018 in the premier class, tumbling off 20 times so far this season.
The dangerous Vinales, a former Moto3 world champion who has managed four podium finishes this year, has looked good all weekend and was happy with his Yamaha’s performance.
“We have worked really hard for this race. We know our potential and I will be trying my best as always,” he said.
Zarco was also ecstatic, making the front row of the grid for the second straight race. But he was glad the session was over.
“I saw some black clouds and I was a little bit scared,” he said, unsure whether to push hard with raindrops hitting his visor.
“But I’m so happy. It showed that I have got good pace and have the possibility to fight for a podium place on Sunday.” —AFP