Photography by Gold & Goose
The new qualifying system for the first MotoGP of the season at the Losail Circuit in Qatar went off without a hitch, the 15-minutes to pole position proving to be an exciting affair with defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo snatching pole position from Cal Crutchlow with a minute and 30 seconds to go in the session.
Lorenzo and the factory Yamaha got things started with a 1:55.394 right away in the session, with Crutchlow and the satellite Monster Tech 3 Yamaha right with him from the get-go, the Brit lapping at 1:55.453 to slot in behind the World Champion.
Lorenzo then lowered his pace to a 1:55.234, only to see Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa better him with his 1:55.164 with eight minutes and 30 seconds to go in the session.
Then came Crutchlow’s best – a 1:54.916 - with just over eight minutes left and it looked as though the time might stick to earn him his first-career pole position.
But Lorenzo wasn’t finished yet. With a minute and 30 seconds left, the Spaniard threw down a 1:54.714 to snatch what would be the first pole position of the new season. He admitted it had taken maximum effort to get the lap time. Tomorrow he will attempt to win the MotoGP of Qatar for the second time in a row.
“I am very pleased with this pole position because I do the best of myself to make this fast lap,” Lorenzo said. “I push more than the limit for three or four laps to try to get the maximum fast lap. It was difficult because Cal [Crutchlow] can do an extremely fast lap – extremely quick. I had to push all my talent, all my speed to make it. And finally we could make, so very thankful for the work of Yamaha. I think on this track we have our package and we’ll see what happens with very long distance tomorrow.”
Crutchlow’s best held up for second - .202 of a second off Lorenzo - with Pedrosa stealing third from Andrea Dovizioso in the final seconds of the session to knock the Italian from the front row after an impressive session in his Ducati debut. Pedrosa had a moment with his rookie teammate Marc Marquez late in the session with the two coming very close to hitting each other. Marquez, who led two of the three practice sessions, ended up sixth in his MotoGP qualifying debut.
Crutchlow has shown that he’s had the speed to compete throughout the weekend after a strong winter testing program. Tomorrow he gets the chance to show he can do it in a race. When asked if he thinks he can compete in tomorrow night’s GP, Crutchlow sounded confident.
“I hope so,” he said. “I think the whole Monster Tech 3 team did a good job. I’m pleased. We came into the season quite strong and we had a not so bad test in Malaysia and also in Jerez, so I think we’ve carried our momentum from there into this weekend, but the pace is not so bad. I think we improve in some areas and we’ll look at the data tonight and see what we can access for tomorrow’s race. I think it will be very difficult to challenge the factory guys, but I will do my best.”
With Pedrosa ending up third to compete the front row, row two will be headed by Dovizioso – perhaps the biggest surprise of qualifying. The fact that ended up three spots better than Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi probably has a few smiling in the Ducati camp.
LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl and Marquez will join Dovizioso on the second row.
Rossi will head row three, the Italian legend getting his best lap on his second go-around and not showing an improvement with his second soft tire. He will be joined on row three by Go & Fun Honda’s Alvaro Bautista and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith – the Brit in his MotoGP debut.
Row four will feature another rookie - Energy T.I. Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone. Ducati’s Nicky Hayden and Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro – the first of the CRTs and the only one to make the cut to the top 12 – will join him on row four.
Ben Spies failed to make that cut, the Texan losing out to his teammate Iannone and Espargaro in Qualifying 1. Spies also suffered a crash today.
1. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:54.714
2. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:54.916
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:55.151
4. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 1:55.160
5. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 1:55.477
6. Marc Marquez (Honda) 1:55.645
7. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 1:55.711
8. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1:55.870
9. Bradley Smith (Yamaha) 1:56.315
10. Andrea Iannone (Ducati) 1:56.523
11. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:56.667
12. Aleix Espargaro (ART) 1:57.064