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Pecco pitches it to perfection for new lap record at Losail

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The Italian puts in the first 1:52 in Qatar to head three Yamahas in the first qualifying session of 2021

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Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) has taken his maiden MotoGP™ pole position in serious style at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, the Italian slamming in a 1:52.772 – the fastest-ever two-wheel lap of Losail International Circuit – to take the honour. Bagnaia beats second place Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) by 0.266s, with Quartararo's fellow Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales. Fourth? Top Independent Team rider Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as the Doctor made it a Yamaha armada just behind Bagnaia... in more ways than one.

Before the final battle though, there was Q1 to contend with. Reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) found himself having to fight for his place in the pole position shootout at the season opener and it wasn’t a walk in the park as the number 36 faced some stiff competition from two rookies: Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) and Enea Bastianini (Esponsorama Racing). Both took turns leading the session, with Mir returning to P1 by just 0.005s with his best lap of the weekend.

Martin then crashed unhurt on his last lap and was out of contention, and Bastianini was unable to improve. Out of nowhere, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was then the man setting the timing screens alight though and the Japanese rider snatched P1 on his final flyer to demote Bastianini out of Q2 promotion. The Beast's 0.005s deficit to Mir proved to be the difference. And so Mir edged through to Q2 by the skin of his teeth, and later received a fine and had his first but not fastest lap deleted for leaving pitlane early. 

Nakagami and Mir then joined the fastest 10 riders from Free Practice for Saturday’s main course: MotoGP™ Qualifying 2. And in said session, it took Bagnaia just one lap to break the all-time lap record, a 1:53.273 coming in from the Italian to set us up for a phenomenal first pole shootout of 2021. Still, despite the P1 time being an all-time lap record, the timing screens were lit up with red sector times.

Bagnaia didn’t improve on his next lap, but teammate Jack Miller did and the Aussie took over at the top. Next was Quartararo and the Frenchman was an astonishing four tenths under at Sector 3, losing a little in the final sector but still talking over at the top, homing in on the 52s with a 1:53.038 – another all-time lap record. After the first couple of flying laps, it was a Yamaha and Ducati fest at the top, with Aleix Espargaro placing his Aprilia Racing Team Gresini machine next up in P6 ahead of Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing). Ahead of those two sat Quartararo, Miller, Viñales, Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as the grid rumbled back into pitlane and prepared for a final push. 

This was it. Viñales was the leader on the road and the first to show us what he had left in his locker, the Spaniard making it a factory Yamaha 1-2. Attention then turned back to Bagnaia though, and he had Valentino Rossi in tow to boot. Pecco unleashed a mind-blowing lap to return to P1 by 0.266s, impervious and seemingly unbeatable, and Rossi’s effort put him P3 for the time being as The Doctor demoted former teammate Viñales off the front row. Top Gun then returned the favour though, taking third back and pushing Rossi down to fourth.

The front row would go unchallenged for the remaining seconds. Bagnaia said on Friday, “we will beat the record in Q2”, and he stuck to his word as the Italian to claimed his first premier class pole position in style with the fastest-ever two-wheel lap of Losail International Circuit. Quartararo and Viñales lock out the front row as The Doctor joins two of his three Yamaha counterparts inside the top four; a 1:53.114 by far the fastest Rossi has lapped Losail.

Joining the veteran Italian on the second row are Miller and Zarco. The two Bologna bullets will have been hoping for more in Q2 but the second row is a solid place from which to unleash Ducati's holeshot device. Zarco is also the new MotoGP™ top speed record holder at 362.4km/h after FP4, and his last flying lap in Q2 was his best to knock Morbidelli onto the third row.

2020 runner up Morbidelli spearheads Row 3 and he's joined by Aleix Espargaro in eighth place, an impressive feat given the top eight were all under Marc Marquez’s old lap record. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is the final member on Row 3 in P9, with Mir being forced to settle for P10 – 0.910s back from pole position. Work to do on a Sunday for both Suzukis again, but if there’s one thing we learned in 2020, it's to never discount the GSX-RR duo in race trim. Nakagami is the leading Honda ahead of the opening race of 2021 just behind them, he and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) will fire off the line in P11 and P12. For full results, click here

We were expecting fireworks, but we really did get some: a new all-time lap record and top speed record within an hour. It’s safe to say MotoGP™ is off to an astonishing start in the desert, as attentions now turn to race day. Bagnaia has done the hard work up until now, but can he help Ducati keep up their formidable Qatar record under the lights in 24 hours time? There’s a whole host of riders lining up behind him who are more than capable of winning the Qatar GP, and it’s going to be simply unmissable.

Make sure to tune in for the first MotoGP™ race of 2021 at 20:00 local time (GMT+3) in Qatar!

MotoGP™ front row

Francesco Bagnaia Ducati Lenovo Team - Ducati - 1:52.722
Fabio Quartararo Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - +0.266
Maverick Viñales Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - +0.316
 

Top Independent Team rider
Valentino Rossi Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - +0.342

MotoGP™ front row L-R: Quartararo, Bagnaia and Viñales

Francesco Bagnaia: "I’m very happy, because I achieved this result which for me is the first, and the best way to start a new chapter with a new team. Yesterday I thought it was possible to do a 52 because on my best lap yesterday I made some mistakes and I was thinking about it, so we can be happy about the result but tomorrow is the race. I think we’re a great group fighting for the top positions, Yamaha is very strong in sectors 2 and 3 and we can close the gap in sector 4 with our top speed so the balance is very close and I think tomorrow it will be a nice race and a big battle for sure.”

Quartararo starts second
... after just getting the jump on Viñales
Top Independent Team rider? Valentino Rossi in fourth, only just off the front row
 
Lowes lights up Losail for first pole position of 2021
The Brit heads rookie Fernandez and Bendsneyder after a classic shootout to begin the Moto2™ season

Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) was once again in superior form at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar as the British rider set a 1:58.726 to take the first honours of the season. The Brit beat rookie sensation Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to pole position by 0.140s, with Bo Bendsneyder’s (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) awesome early season form seeing the Dutchman claim just his third Grand Prix front row start in P3, 0.233s from Lowes’.

Ahead of the opening Moto2™ pole position battle, four riders entered the fray from Q1. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) was the quickest as rookie Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46), Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and 2019 Moto3™ World Champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Italtrans Racing Team) finished within a tenth of each other to get another crack at the whip in Q2.

As Q2 kicked into life, the fastest rider after the opening flying laps was Lowes. Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) made it a British 1-2 but working in tandem, Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner then took over at the top – the latter leading his rookie teammate with a 1:59.245. Incidentally, Lowes’ first lap time was then scrapped but soon after, his second lap then saw him fly to P1, 0.447s faster than Gardner’s best.

Once again, Dixon made it a British 1-2 but Lowes’ lead was still considerable. Bendsneyder then catapulted himself to P2 before Lowes once again pulled clear of the chasing pack. Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) then took over in second, but the Italian was still over three tenths behind. The Red Bull KTM Ajo duo then launched themselves onto the front row, Raul Fernandez P2 and Gardner P3, but the Aussie’s lap would get cancelled.

The ever-impressive Bendsneyder then hit back to demote Bezzecchi off the front row on his final lap as Gardner then threatened Lowes’ time on his last lap. However, a crash for Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) at Turn 10 – minutes after the Spaniard and teammate Dixon collided at Turn 3 – put a halt to Gardner’s late charge. Dixon was judged to have been riding slow on the line, causing a collision and has a three-place grid penalty.

At the top though, Lowes was untouchable. The 2020 title challenger has been in supreme form at Losail and will launch from pole, and he’ll line up alongside a rookie sensation in Raul Fernandez. The Spaniard has taken to Moto2™ like a duck to water and Bendsneyder impressed too, picking up his first front row start since the 2017 Moto3™ Dutch GP.

A star-studded second row will be lining up for the opening round of the season as Bezzecchi, Joe Roberts (American Racing) and Gardner claim P4, P5 and P6 in Q2 respectively. Dixon couldn’t improve on his couple of early banker laps and slipped down to P7, but will start further back in tenth. Q1 graduate Di Giannantonio was P8 but will start seventh ahead of Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up), with rookie Vietti boosted up to ninth after an impressive day.

Marcos Ramirez (American Racing) and Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) both went to the medical centre for check-ups after both suffering big crashes in Q1. Unfortunately, both riders have been declared unfit. Corsi sustained a left wrist fracture and Ramirez suffered a right humeral fracture, the duo will miss the Qatar GP.

Full results are here.

Can anyone beat Lowes at Losail? It’s looking like a tricky task, but Sunday is surely going to throw up some drama under the lights. Make sure you check the clock changes before tuning in for the Moto2™ race at 18:20 local time (GMT+3)!

Moto2™ front row:

Sam Lowes Elf Marc VDS Racing Team - Kalex - 1:58.726    
Raul Fernandez Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - +0.140
Bo Bendsneyder Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team - Kalex - +0.233

Moto2™ front row L-R: Fernandez, Lowes and Bendsneyder

Sam Lowes: "I felt good in qualifying, it was the first time we went out with low fuel, I did a quite a lot of fast laps, not a perfect lap but I’m happy. We’ve done a good job all winter and good job in the test, it’s been nice to do testing cause last year I missed it! It’s nice to understand more and give ourselves more possibilities in the race weekend if we need to, it’s going good. When you have a good year it’s nice to carry it on next year and carry the momentum."

 
Binder blitzes Moto3™ pole record to take first honours of 2021
The South African battles it out in a classic Q2, with rookie sensation Guevara and veteran McPhee completing the fromt row

From Q1 to pole, 2021 is off to a good start for Darryn Binder. The Petronas Sprinta Racing rider topped the first qualifying session to make it through to the pole position shootout at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, then setting a 2:04.075 – a new lap record – to take the first pole of the year, despite also dicing it out with a few rivals on the way round. Reigning FIM Moto3™ Junior World Champion Izan Guevara (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar) claimed a wonderful debut Grand Prix front row, and also progressed from Q1, with the rookie set to line up in second. Veteran campaigner and former Qatar podium finisher John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) completes the front row.

The biggest name to miss out on an automatic Q2 place after Free Practice was Binder, but the South African made no mistakes in Q1 to put in a 2:04.834 and top the session, cruising into the pole position shootout along with Guevara, Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) and Riccardo Rossi (BOE Owlride), setting the stage for the first pole position fireworks of 2021.

As Q2 began it was initially a waiting game, with all but four riders sitting outside their pit boxes, waiting for other riders and teams to blink first. It wasn’t until nearly five minutes had gone that everyone finally ventured out on track, but two of those who didn’t wait around were CIP Green Power’s Kaito Toba and Maximilian Kofler. Toba, the Free Practice pacesetter, set a 2:05.414 to lay down the first benchmark time.

Coming out of Q1, Binder was in the groove and that lap from Toba didn't last too long at the top. The new Petronas Sprinta recruit made light work of a couple of riders in front of him and his first lap in Q2 was a new lap record, and by some margin. Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) then got within a tenth of Binder’s blistering 2:04.354 as two Moto3™ race winners, John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – tangled at Turn 15, with both chasing improved lap times and things getting close in the battle for the first pole of the year.

The grid then rumbled back down pitlane after their first runs, with most leaving it late before heading back out for a one-lap dash. However, late was very late for some, and for Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3), it was too late. The Argentinean took the chequered flag before starting his lap as Toba launched himself into P3, but there was plenty still to come from those who had managed to sneak over the line for a last shot at pole.

Lots of orange sectors were lighting up on the timing screens but three riders were showing red: Binder, Guevara and McPhee. Soon-to-be polesitter Binder was forcing his way through those ahead in the final sector too - those ahead being Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as the two got very close on track. 

Up ahead, and for about half a second, it seemed like a dream debut pole position was going Guevara’s way... but Binder was still on a charge. The South African completed his barnstormer and returned to P1 with another new lap record to seal the deal in a scintillating end to the first qualifying of the season. Those joining him on the front row make it an interesting one too: rookie sensation Guevera sandwiched by two pre-season title favourites in Binder and McPhee.

Alcoba missed out on a final flying lap but his opening run pace was enough to see him spearhead the second row in P4, with Masia and Toba launching from the second row too in P5 and P6 respectively. Rodrigo, Sergio Garcia (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar) and Rossi set themselves up for a chance of a good start in seventh, eighth and ninth in that order. Rounding out the top 10 was Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3), a former winner at Losail. 

That's it from Saturday, with full results available here. Binder set the track alight in qualifying, but Sunday could be a whole different ball game. Moto3™ is always a thriller so tune in at 17:00 local time (GMT+3) to watch the drama unfold!

Moto3™ front row

Darryn Binder Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - 2:04.075    
Izan Guevara GASGAS Gaviota Aspar Team - GASGAS - +0.203
John McPhee Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - +0.283

Moto3™ front row L-R: Guevara, Binder and McPhee

Darryn Binder: "It's never fun when you have to come through Q1 first but I knew I had the speed and just had to get a lap together. When I came out in Q1 and put down that first flying lap I was like 'Ok, I'm here and I'm done'. Roll On Q2. We went out later than I expected in Q2, and I did my lap, came in and thought 'nah no one is gonna do it at the end'. Next thing we're rolling out again, I'm like 'we're going and I gotta put another one together now, I've got another chance'. I put together a good one there, I'm so stoked. Can't complain, starting first and I got myself a new watch!"

 
Losail International Circuit first to be presented with Best Grand Prix award

After a 2020 that brought so many new challenges for the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship, the award for Best Grand Prix will be done a little differently this year: all those who played host to an event in a history-making 2020 will be given an award. This is to recognise and thank each track for their incredible support and collaboration last season.

The first of those awards was presented just ahead of the Qualifying Press Conference on Saturday at Losail International Circuit, with IRTA President Herve Poncharal and Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta handing over the trophy to Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, QMMF & Losail Circuit Sports Club President, and Khalid Al Remaihi, Losail Circuit Sports Club Vice President & General Manager.

Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta (L) and IRTA President Herve Poncharal with the trophy
Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, QMMF & Losail Circuit Sports Club President, and Khalid Al Remaihi, Losail Circuit Sports Club Vice President & General Manager, receive the award

Published : March 27, 2021