World Championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) will start his 100th premier-class Grand Prix tomorrow from the front row of the grid at Brno. He was denied a 49th class pole position only in the closing moments of a hectic qualifying session, run in blazing heat in front of a packed house of sun-baked fans at the sprawling Czech circuit.
The 25-year-old Spaniard has taken 40 race wins in his previous 99 starts, giving him a win percentage of 40.4 percent. This is far and away the highest in the MotoGP era, with the closest rival being Honda’s 2011 World Champion Casey Stoner on 33.04 percent. Current rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo lag on 28.3 and 25.1 percent respectively.
Marquez is going for his fifth MotoGP title in six years, and returned from the summer break with already a significant lead of 46 points over his closest rival Rossi. Marquez has already won five of the first nine races, and now starts the second part of the 19-race season planning a sustained attack to stretch his advantage still further.
The former 125cc and Moto2 champ took his fourth MotoGP crown last season and his current form is largely thanks to the tireless work of HRC engineers who have made the latest version of the awesomely powerful RC213V into what Marquez believes to be the best-balanced MotoGP bike he’s ridden. But the competition has been fierce, with Marquez having to fight for every single point after some of the closest racing in the championship’s 70-year history. For example, a sustained multi-bike brawl two races ago at the Dutch TT broke all records, with the top 15 points scorers covered by just 16 seconds.
Marquez, who has twice won the premier-class race at Brno, has been working carefully on race pace over two days of practice. He showed his hand with fastest time in the fourth free practice session, then led the Q2 qualifying session until Andrea Dovizioso and Rossi nosed narrowly ahead. The three-rider front row is covered by less than quarter of a second, with Rossi seven thousandths faster than Marquez, with all three within touching distance of Marquez’s best-ever Brno lap, set in 2016.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) is also a double Brno winner in the MotoGP class and he topped the time-sheets yesterday. The 32-year-old former 125cc 250cc World Champion, who announced at the last race that he will retire at the end of this season, has won at least one race every year since 2002, always on Honda machinery, and is anxious to maintain the record in his final year.
But the task will be challenging tomorrow. Pedrosa will start from the fourth row of the grid after qualifying 10th, albeit barely four tenths off the front row.
Independent-team rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) is closer to the sharp end, at a circuit where in the past he has claimed his first pole position and his first MotoGP victory. Crutchlow, who took his first win of this season at the second round in Argentina, came back from a minor crash this morning to challenge for another front-row start. Like Marquez, he was displaced by the last-minute charge of the front two riders, and will start from fifth, in the middle of the second row.
Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS RC213V) was significantly the best of Honda’s three ex-Moto2 class rookies. The 23-year-old Italian was less than two tenths away from getting through into the Q2 session and placed a close third in Q1. The reigning Moto2 king has adapted well to the much more powerful MotoGP class, and made it straight through to Q1 at his home GP in June. But he has missed the last two races, after suffering a hand injury during practice at Assen.
Former Moto2 World Champion Stefan Bradl (HRC Honda Team RC213V) was just three tenths slower and qualified 18th, on the sixth row of the grid. The German, currently Honda’s official MotoGP tester, was entered as a wild card for his first GP this year, but had a practice run in Germany three weeks ago when he took over Morbidelli’s bikes halfway through the weekend.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) qualified 20th, the Japanese rider still recovering from the gruelling experience of last weekend’s Suzuka 8-Hours race, where he and his team-mates Takumi Takahashi and PJ Jacobsen finished a close second, a tantalising 30 seconds away from victory.
2017’s Moto2 runner-up Thomas Luthi (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS RC213V) is still working at his conversion to the premier class, and will start from 22nd on the grid.
In the Honda CBR600-powered Moto2 class, the last session of the afternoon was the most afflicted by the increasing heat. Almost all of the top-20 laps were set on each rider’s second or third laps.
A career first pole went to Italian Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex), who had been on the front row for the first time in his career for the previous two rounds as well. The half-brother of Rossi, Marini took his first top-three podium at the last race in Germany; but injury earlier in the year means he is only 11th in the championship standings.
Second-fastest qualifier Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex), younger brother of Marc, is still a title contender, although he has yet to take a win this year to back up his five top-three finishes.
Veteran Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team Kalex) completes the front row for the fourth time this year, including pole at the last round. But a crash early in that German GP not only spoiled his race, but also put points leader Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex) off the track and at the back. Bagnaia struggled from there through to 12th, a result that cut his lead back to just seven points over Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM), who will start tomorrow’s race from fourth, leading the second row. He has Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP Suter) beside him, and Bagnaia at the far end.
German GP Moto2 winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM) qualified seventh, heading row three from Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP Suter) and Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing KTM). Spanish GP winner Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40 Kalex) completes the top ten.
Honda’s hopes of a fourth Moto3 Riders World Championship in five years took a blow when championship leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) was injured in a crash in Friday’s first free practice session. The Spaniard suffered a fractured radius bone in his left forearm, and flew home for surgery, in the hope of being fit to contest next weekend’s Austrian GP.
Honda still has a strong line-up for tomorrow’s race, although long-time session leader Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) lost his chance of a career-first pole start when he was bumped off the front row by just 0.047 of a second in a final flurry of action. The Italian’s top slot was snatched away when he was fractionally too late to put in a final fast lap of his own.
He qualified fifth, with Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda NSF250RW) alongside to complete the second row. Canet lies third in the championship standings, one point ahead of fourth-placed Di Giannantonio.
The next-best Honda rider in the championship is Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW), who qualified tenth to lead row four, with all times very close. Two more Honda riders will be ahead of him on row three. Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) was eighth, less than two hundredths of a second faster than Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW).
Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda NSF250RW) and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW) qualified 16th and 17th.
Eighteen-year-old Japanese rider Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) was 20th. His compatriots 17-year-old Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda NSF250RW), from Yokosuka, and 20-year-old Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW) both suffered early tumbles before setting a qualifying time, condemning them to the back row of the grid, pending potential penalties to other riders.
Following tomorrow’s tenth of 19 MotoGP rounds, riders and teams will head immediately to Austria, for next weekend’s races at the Red Bull Ring.