Rookie Marquez earns first pole position in Austin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Rookie Marc Marquez is the youngest driver ever to earn pole position in MotoGP. Can he use it to become the circuit's youngest winner?
The 20-year-old from Spain and his Honda dominated the practice rounds at the inaugural MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas, then easily left the field behind in Saturday's qualifying to post a time of 2 minutes, 3.021 seconds.
The day's fastest run came after Marquez tumbled off his motorcycle in a scary-looking crash in the morning practice. He needed a moment to shake off the fall but clearly had no problems once he returned to the track.
"I knew I could fight for the pole," Marquez said, beaming a boyish smile. "But you never know. All these guys are pushing. We're happy, but the most important thing is tomorrow.
"It's special, the first pole position of your career. Tomorrow, I think we're ready for a fight," Marquez said.
Marquez posted his fastest lap on the third of seven in qualifying and Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa was second at 2:03.275. Defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha, who won the season-opening race at Qatar, was third at 2:04.100.
Marquez has been tabbed as a rapidly rising star after winning the Moto2 championship last season. He finished third in Qatar behind some impressive driving, passing Pedrosa with six laps to go to grab a podium finish in his MotoGP debut.
Marquez' blistering start had the scary moment with the crash, but he came through it mostly unfazed.
"Some back pain, but it's OK on the bike," he said.
In a way, all of the drivers are rookies trying to feel their way around a slick new Circuit of the Americas course that was built for Formula One race cars and opened its doors for the first time last November.
At 3.42 miles, the track is the third-longest on the 18-race calendar. Its 20 turns -- including a 100-foot elevation through the first -- demand exquisite touch and balance. The .74-mile straightaway, the longest in MotoGP, gives the fastest motorcycles a distinct advantage.
The top teams made sure to send their riders in for test runs. Yamaha teammates Lorenzo and Valetino Rossi and the Honda team of Marquez and Pedrosa traveled to Austin in March to get some early practice. Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo posted the three fastest practice times before qualifying.
"It's really difficult, one of the most difficult tracks of my career to understand," Lorenzo said.
Lorenzo said the track suits the speed of the Hondas, but sounded confident he can challenge Marquez and Pedrosa for the win on Sunday. Those three will battle through the elevated first turn that spins a tight left turnaround in a quick drop back down the hill.
The top three qualifiers all said the first turn could lead to a chaotic start.
"I think we made the best position we could today. Tomorrow is the race, and as always on Sunday, things can happen," Lorenzo said.
There were some stumbles Saturday. Aside from Marquez' spill, Czech driver Karel Abraham of team Cardian AB fractured his collarbone in a crash with Australian Bryan Staring during qualifying and will miss the race.
Abraham was able to get off the track but race officials said he was later taken to an Austin hospital for surgery and could be sidelined for several weeks. The injury comes after Abraham crashed on the first lap of the race in Qatar after a brake problem.
The inaugural Austin race gives MotoGP its three races in the U.S. with the U.S. Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, Calif., in July and the Indianapolis Grand Prix in August.
For Texan Ben Spies of Pramac Racing, who qualified 10th, being so close to home was a welcome change in the globe-trotting schedule. The next six races are in Europe.
"I got to drive my own car here and bring my own pillow from home," Spies said this week. "I think it's great for all the Europeans to come over and see what Texas has put on."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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