FRANCE’S Johann Zarco dramatically snatched pole on Saturday for MotoGP’s season-opening race in Qatar setting a track lap record time of 1 min 53.680 sec.
Zarco, who had crashed earlier in the evening on a practice lap in windy conditions in Doha, smashed the old record which had stood for 10 years at the very end of the qualifying session.
“I am very happy, it’s the best way to start the season,” said Zarco.
“To beat the lap record makes me really happy. Tomorrow is the main thing and I will try to be on the podium.”
It will be the third time he has started in pole position in MotoGP. Asked if he was surprised to set such a fast time so soon after crashing, Zarco said: “It’s amazing.
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“I am not the kind of rider to crash and go very fast after the crash but with a new tyre, I felt good on the bike. It was just fantastic.”
The Tech3 Yamaha rider was rookie of the year in his debut season in 2017 and has set himself a target of finishing in the top three this season.
Last year in Qatar he led for the first six laps before crashing out.
The previous lap record of 1 min 53.927 sec was set by Spain’s Jorge Lorenzo, also in qualifying, back in 2008.
Zarco will be joined on the front row of the grid for Sunday’s race by world champion Marc Marquez on a Honda and Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci – who also beat the old lap record time.
Marquez, who is aiming for a third successive elite class world championship in 2018, has struggled in pre-season testing but eventually posted a time of 1 min 53.882 sec to take second spot.
“I am very happy, my target was to be on the front row,” said the Spaniard.
He added: “I was able to do a great lap but the most important is tomorrow.”
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Also there will be Italy’s Petrucci, who qualified with a time of 1 min 53.887 sec.
“It was very, very difficult, a lot of wind and the track today was very dirty,” he said.
The Pramac Ducati rider said as many as eight riders could win Sunday’s race but said he was worried about conditions.
“I am a little bit scared about the first lap, I think many riders want to stay at the top.”
This year’s championship promises to be the closest for many seasons. Last year’s runner-up, Italy’s Andrea Dovizioso, held pole position for much of qualifying and had clocked the best practice times.
But he will start in fifth place on the grid after finishing with a qualifying time of 1 min 54.074 sec.
Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will start in the third row after finishing eighth.
His Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales, who finished third in the championship last season, will start back in 12th position, after qualifying in a time more than a second behind Zarco.