Marc Marquez pipped Jorge Lorenzo to the fastest time in third practice ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix as the ten automatic places for QP2 were decided. The reigning Moto2 and MotoGP champions were separated by one thousandth of a second in a thrilling session where the fight to avoid the ignominy of taking part in QP1 was just as exciting as the battle to finish fastest.
The second practice session saw very few improvements due to the dirty track surface but with Moto2 and Moto3 having had their last track time before qualifying, conditions were much improved when MotoGP action resumed, as proven by Cal Crutchlow who set the quickest time of the weekend inside the first seven minutes.
The Briton held on until the midway point before Lorenzo put a quarter of a second into him, improving to a 1:56.085, but the pack were closing up behind them as the battle for a top ten spot intensified. Bradley Smith comfortably beat his previous best time of the weekend to climb as high as sixth but all four Ducatis were also showing impressive pace, knocking Alvaro Bautista into the drop zone with five minutes left.
With seconds remaining, Marquez claimed the bragging rights heading into qualifying with a 1:56.084, nudging him ahead of his compatriot Lorenzo by the smallest of margins. The rookie remained the odd one out in a Yamaha-dominated top four as Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi followed Lorenzo in the low 1:56s. The impressive Andrea Dovizioso was just 0.001s behind his Ducati predecessor in fifth with Dani Pedrosa’s disappointing weekend continuing in sixth although he safely made it through to QP2.
Alvaro Bautista left it late to salvage seventh ahead of Nicky Hayden while it was mission accomplished for Bradley Smith who secured ninth, just eight tenths off the outright fastest rider and ahead of Stefan Bradl’s LCR Honda, the last automatic qualifier through to QP2.
As a result, the two Pramac Ducatis will join the CRT runners in QP1 tomorrow and look set for a battle with Aleix Espargaro’s Aspar ART over the last two spots in QP2. Andrea Iannone managed to edge out his experienced teammate Ben Spies for eleventh with Espargaro only a tenth further back in twelfth. Michael Laverty was 23rd on Paul Bird Motorsport’s home built PBM machine and will look to continue his upward trend in lap times in qualifying tomorrow.