Things got pretty hot in Texas in qualifying for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, with drama first striking as reigning champion Marc Marquez took a tumble on his Repsol Honda at Turn 13.
With the other riders closing in on his time as he made his way back to the Honda garage on a scooter, Marquez was able to get back out, and set a sixth pole position at the Circuit of the Americas – closely followed by a resurgent Maverick Viñales on the Yamaha.
However, that wasn’t the end of the tale, and Marquez found his riding under the spotlight again – Viñales, after an impressive show of race pace earlier in the day in FP4, came across a slower-moving Marquez on his first flyer on his second run and was forced to abandon the lap.
A visibly angry Viñales gesticulated wildly as the pair made their way back to Parc Ferme, with both riders skirting round the intense media interest in the incident in the post qualifying interviews.
However, the clash was investigated by the stewards and Marquez was given a three-place grid penalty and will therefore actually start from fourth.
Viñales said: “For sure I’m very satisfied. It’s been a long time since I was on the first row. I think tomorrow we can do a great race. I felt really good with the tyres, especially the rear. I think that tomorrow we still have a little room to improve. Race by race I’m finding my own bike, my own style, and I still have a margin to push more. I’m quite happy and tomorrow we’re going to try to be even faster. I’m very much focused on tomorrow. We had great pace in FP4 and we have to keep pushing. I think fighting for the victory will be difficult, but not impossible. I feel good and I feel good on the bike, so let’s see. I think between today and tomorrow we can make another step.”
Marquez said: “Of course qualifying was a bit hectic. I crashed and had to take my second bike for the second run. I went out, and unfortunately I didn’t expect Maverick to arrive behind me because I was focused on Iannone, who was waiting ahead and who I knew could be very fast.
“I apologised to Maverick but I didn’t realise he was behind me until I heard his engine. So tomorrow I’ll start from fourth. It will be important to choose the right tyre; we’ve worked a lot on used tyres and I was able to be consistent during the practices, but this track is quite physically demanding and tomorrow the temperature should be higher, so we’ll see. We’ll try and remain fully concentrated.”
It was a good qualifying for Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, with the Italian setting the third fastest lap, with Tech 3’s Johann Zarco bumped back onto the front row to make it seven races in the row the Frenchman has lined up there.
He had Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi for very close company on the timesheets; the Italian just 0.019 back and now starting fifth, next to Marquez, who now heads up Row 2 following his demotion on the grid.
It was just as tight for sixth and the final spot on the second row, as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo was only another 0.065 in arrears behind the ‘Doctor’.
Championship leader Cal Crutchlow took seventh on his LCR Honda as he aims to keep his points lead on Sunday, and he’s just ahead of the man chasing him in the standings, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa completes that star-studded third row. the Spaniard impressing despite struggling with the after effects of surgery on a broken wrist sustained in the Argentina GP.
Q1 graduate Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing), Argentina GP podium finisher Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completed the top twelve – with Espargaro having put in a stunner to come through Q1 and get KTM’s first visit to Q2 this season. However, the KTM rider was also given a three-place grid penalty, meaning Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) will start P12.