Luis Salom made a perfect start to life at Red Bull KTM Ajo by claiming pole position for the opening race of the Moto3 season in Qatar. The Spaniard has been signed as replacement for last year’s champion Sandro Cortese and saw off the challenge of Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins in an all-KTM top three.
Vinales was the revelation of qualifying having languished on the fringes of the top ten all weekend and qualifying didn’t get off to the best of starts either as his KTM struggled to fire up. Once the motorcycle was up and running, Vinales finally began to show the form which took him to pole here last year, going second fastest behind early pacesetter Alex Rins.
With conditions constantly improving as the dust was swept off the race track, the improvements up at the top of the leaderboard were significant as Jonas Folger usurped Rins by 1.5s, only for the Estrella Galicia teenager to hit back, going a second quicker than the German in response.
The final shootout for pole kicked off five minutes from time with Salom, Folger and Vinales all on pole position pace. Salom was the first to reach the finish line and set the benchmark on a 2:08.061 before Folger pipped him by five thousandths of a second, the German having let Luis through on his previous flyer in an attempt to pick up a slipstream. The pair of them would be upstaged by Vinales though who pulled a quarter of a second clear with the first sub-2:08 lap of the evening.
All three had two more chances to stake their claim and Salom would find the extra speed required, putting in consecutive laps in the low-2:07s to pull out a six tenth lead over Folger whose strategy of following the KTM had backfired. Vinales delivered a 2:07.337 all on his own to snatch second while Alex Rins also saved his best until last to knock Folger off the front row.
Miguel Oliveira qualified fifth to the delight of Mahindra with Alan Techer a career-best sixth on the CIP TSR ahead of Jakub Kornfeil and the second Mahindra of Efren Vazquez. Alex Marquez will start his first ever Qatar Grand Prix from ninth on the grid with Arthur Sissis edging out his Red Bull KTM Ajo teammate Zulfahmi Khairuddin to tenth.
Danny Webb and John McPhee both enjoyed positive sessions, outqualifying their respective teammates with Webb fifteenth, two places ahead of Brad Binder, and McPhee 0.026s quicker than Jack Miller in 20th position.