until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Sepang pole battle provides latest twist in MotoGP title race

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Defending MotoGP champion Pecco Bagnaia took his first pole position in just over a month with a last-gasp lap in Sepang qualifying, as title rival Jorge Martin crashed.

But Martin's best effort before his incident still proved good enough to leave him alongside Bagnaia on an all-Ducati front row, which will be followed by an all-Ducati second row.

VR46 Ducati rider Luca Marini, linked with a potential Honda switch for 2024, was the first rider to go below Martin's lap record from 2022, before Martin swiftly reclaimed the record for himself.

But both of them crashed in the final minutes - Marini at Turn 9 and Martin at Turn 4 - meaning neither got a proper chance to respond to Bagnaia's late push.

In a session in which the Italian provided the extremely memorable sight of him looking over his shoulder while riding through the pitlane and theatrically counting out the number of rivals that were planning to follow him, Bagnaia's eventual 1m57.491s lifted him from fifth to first at the chequered flag.

Two weeks on from qualifying last at Buriram, Bagnaia's team-mate Enea Bastianini recorded comfortably his best qualifying effort of the season in third place. He'd fought through Q1, progressing alongside Fabio Di Giannantonio, and then ran off-sequence in Q2, his single run enough to complete the front row behind Bagnaia and Martin.

Alex Marquez was fourth for Gresini Ducati, just 0.170s off pole, and is to be joined by Marini and Marini's VR46 team-mate Marco Bezzecchi on the second row.

Bezzecchi, who shrugged off a very slow crash in pre-qualifying practice, thus completed a Ducati 1-2-3-4-5-6. He was 0.314s off pole yet, remarkably, 0.245s up on the best of the rest behind the Desmosedici armada.

This was KTM's Brad Binder, who outpaced Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) by 0.030s for best-of-the-rest honours.

Aprilia's sole Q2 representative Maverick Vinales and Binder's KTM team-mate Jack Miller completed the top 10. Rounding out the Q2 order behind them was a pair of Ducati riders - Di Giannantonio, who crashed late on, and Johann Zarco, the Pramac rider seemingly caught out by numerous yellow flags.

Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro, forced to make a rare Q1 appearance after a four-crash Friday, led the timesheets in the opening segment with just over a minute left on the clock - but ultimately ended up eliminated by a tenth and a half.

He will be joined on the fifth row of the grid by Tech3 Gas Gas rider Augusto Fernandez and Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli.

Joan Mir was the lead Honda in 16th place, with team-mate Marc Marquez four places down in a Q1 after a Turn 7 crash - seemingly on a bump that riders have reported as being new this year - while trying to overtake Fernandez's Gas Gas-badged KTM.

This came after Marquez had tried to grab a tow off Morbidelli, with the Yamaha man rolling around for much of his second run in an effort to shake off Marquez and succeeding at the end - but only because, at the last second, Marquez decided he was content with following Fernandez instead.

The other rider to crash in Q1 was Pol Espargaro, his session compromised by an early fall at Turn 9 - though the Spaniard still ended up three positions up on former team-mate Marquez.

Ducati's World Superbike champion Alvaro Bautista qualified in the penultimate spot for his wildcard outing, 1.6s off Q1 pace-setter Di Giannantonio.

Bautista - who did outpace fellow WSBK regular and LCR Honda stand-in Iker Lecuona - did have an apparent mitigating factor as he had to pull over on his final lap due to a yet-unspecified problem.

Qualifying Results

1Francesco BagnaiaDucati1m57.491s
2Jorge MartinDucati1m57.549s
3Enea BastianiniDucati1m57.911s1m57.661s
4Alex MarquezDucati1m57.661s
5Luca MariniDucati1m57.787s
6Marco BezzecchiDucati1m57.805s
7Brad BinderKTM1m58.050s
8Fabio QuartararoYamaha1m58.080s
9Maverick ViñalesAprilia1m58.253s
10Jack MillerKTM1m58.468s
11Fabio Di GiannantonioDucati1m57.823s1m59.211s
12Johann ZarcoDucati2m01.848s
13Aleix EspargaróAprilia1m58.069s
14Augusto FernandezKTM1m58.107s
15Franco MorbidelliYamaha1m58.321s
16Joan MirHonda1m58.440s
17Pol EspargaróKTM1m58.555s
18Raul FernandezAprilia1m58.623s
19Miguel OliveiraAprilia1m58.638s
20Marc MarquezHonda1m58.717s
21Takaaki NakagamiHonda1m58.886s
22Alvaro BautistaDucati1m59.418s
23Iker LecuonaHonda1m59.658s
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks