Jorge Lorenzo denied Cal Crutchlow his first MotoGP pole position with a late rally in a frantic qualifying session at Losail. The new format provided non-stop action in the fifteen minute fight for pole with Lorenzo overhauling Crutchlow at the top of the timesheets in the final two minutes.
Crutchlow was the fastest man in Saturday’s extra practice session and carried that form into the all-important fifteen minute shootout, going fastest straight away with a 1:54.916. Lorenzo’s opening salvo was three tenths slower than the Briton with Dani Pedrosa third quickest, faster than he’d gone all weekend.
On their second runs, the two Repsol Honda riders ran in close formation and the strategy backfired on the two Spaniards as Pedrosa sat up on the opening lap of his second run, unintentionally blocking Marc Marquez in the process. Both had time for one final flyer but neither would have a say in the argument over top spot.
That would be between the two Yamahas of Crutchlow and Lorenz and the reigning world champion had the final say with a 1:54.714 that was quicker than anything Cal could manage in response. The Tech 3 rider hung on to second though as Pedrosa’s challenge ran out of steam but Andrea Dovizioso had plenty left in his Ducati to grab fourth, only nine thousandths of a second away from a front row starting place.
Stefan Bradl was another rider to take advantage of the Repsol Honda mix-up to snatch fifth from Marquez while Valentino Rossi was strangely subdued when it mattered most, coming in a second slower than his teammate in seventh. Alvaro Bautista will start alongside in eighth with Bradley Smith lining up ninth for his first Grand Prix in the premier class. Andrea Iannone excelled on his Pramac Ducati to qualify tenth, claiming the scalp of factory rider Nicky Hayden while Aleix Espargaro dragged his Aspar ART into the second qualifying session, but couldn’t get any higher than twelfth.
Espargaro had already caused the upset of the evening by beating both Pramac Ducati’s in Q1. The Aspar rider clocked a 1:57.151 to lead Iannone with Ben Spies the first big name to fall foul of the new qualifying format, his cause not helped in the 30 minute practice session that preceded qualifying proper. The American will start thirteenth with Randy de Puniet and the impressive Lukas Pesek for company on row five with Yonny Hernandez sixteenth, eight places ahead of Britain’s Michael Laverty at the back of the grid.