Phillip Island is a place for the brave in any weather, with some of the fastest corners on the calendar. In qualifying for the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix that was even more true, as cool and windy conditions - and the threat of rain - made it a who dares wins and newly-crowned Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) played his cards to perfection, pushing early and then managing the risk to take his fifth pole in a row at the track. That equals Australian and MotoGP™ Legend Casey Stoner, who was the last man to take five in a row at the fabled circuit. Can Marquez add another win tomorrow to start to threaten Stoner's victory count?
Standing in his way is some tough opposition. Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) starts second and has shown top pace all weekend, with French fighter Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) completing the front row. But when asked in the Press Conference who was the biggest threat for the win, the hot pick was in fact the man who heads up Row 2 - Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar).
The 'Maniac' has been on top of or close to the top of the timesheets all weekend and looks a key threat on race day. Iannone had taken provisional pole part-way through the session but he was then quickly ousted by Zarco as P1 chopped and changed. Marquez then slotted into third, 0.037 back. The Champion didn’t stay there for long though and he shot to P1 by a stunning 0.506 to raise the bar, setting a personal and session best lap time that would prove to be crucial. Why? As most of the riders pitted for fresh rubber, the heavens opened again.
The rain didn't stick around but it hampered anyone in the quest to dramatically lower laptimes. Home hero Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) – in typical Miller fashion – had other ideas as he set orange sectors, but was ultimately unable to improve after a huge moment coming onto the Gardner Straight. Viñales then raised eyebrows by going quickest in the first split...but then couldn’t hook up the final sector in the difficult conditions either.
That was therefore that and an enthralling session ended with Marquez, Viñales and Zarco on that front row, with Iannone missing out by just 0.007 seconds. Fellow Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Alex Rins will start from P5, with Miller grabbing P6 in front of his home fans. Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) will aim to challenge for a podium from seventh on the grid as he leads an all-Italian third row, with the 'Doctor' having been on the podium in the premier class at Phillip Island 15 times out of 18. As always, not a bad record...
He's joined on the row by Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) who was top Ducati, and Friday's standout performer is joined by Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in P9 after 'DesmoDovi' took his worst qualifying result of the season.
Despite a huge Turn 1 crash in FP3, Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) earns his best Saturday afternoon result of the season and is top rookie in P10, joined on the fourth row by Q1 graduates Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Alvaro Bautista (Ducati Team), also a crasher.
The title is done, the pressure is off and Phillip Island creates some of the greatest racing in the world. The front row think it will be another incredible Island battle, so don't miss out - tune in from 16:00 local time (GMT +11) for the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
MotoGP™ Qualifying Results
1 - Marc Marquez (SPA) HONDA 1'29.199
2 - Maverick Viñales (SPA) YAMAHA +0.310
First Independent Team Rider:
3 - Johann Zarco (FRA) YAMAHA +0.506