Another year, another pole position for Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez at the Grand Prix of the Americas.
Will it set up yet another win at the track where he's never lost?
The 23-year-old Spaniard set up a run at a fourth straight victory in Austin, grabbing pole position Saturday for the fourth consecutive year. The former two-time MotoGP champion ripped around the Circuit of the Americas in 2 minutes, 3.188 seconds for his 32th career pole, just squeezing out Movistar Yamaha teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.
"We are again on the pole but this time much closer," Marquez said. "Both Yamaha riders look pretty strong. They are very fast. Tomorrow will be hard to beat them."
Lorenzo is the defending season champion and needs to stay close to points leader Marquez after crashing out early in last week's Argentina Grand Prix. He pressured Marquez all the way through qualifying with a fastest lap of 2:03.257.
Marquez has hardly been challenged in his three previous wins here and looked to be cruising again until Lorenzo's pulsating lap in qualifying. Marquez's pace-setter came on his third lap and he went to the garage for a few minutes and watched as Lorenzo made his push.
Marquez quickly returned to the track but Lorenzo couldn't find the final gear to grab the pole.
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Despite all of his dominance in Austin, Marquez earned his latest pole position with a bit of savvy alongside the pure power of his engine. Unlike previous years, when his Honda overpowered the competition and the track's tight turns and long straights, a dip in acceleration performance has forced him to change driving styles by taking wider turns to maintain speed.
The change has pretty much worked to perfection so far. Marquez's only hiccup was a misjudged brake into a turn Friday that caused a crash, but he seemed to have that worked out on Saturday with clean laps all the way around.
He also avoided the sort of drama that came in qualifying last year when his motorcycle stalled and he ran back to the garage to get another before turning in a blistering final lap for pole position.
Everything seems to go Marquez's way on this track. Rossi even joked that while Yamaha has been able to close the gap "year by year ... maybe in five or six years we can beat him."
The challenge for Marquez may be trying to avoiding overconfidence on track where's he been all but invincible. Lorenzo and Rossi will be looking to pounce on any opening.
"No one is unbeatable. You can have engine failure, a mistake, a crash. Anything can happen," Lorenzo said.
A 26th career win Sunday would establish Marquez as the rider to catch for the world championship after just three races in the season. After winning the title in 2013 and 2014, he slipped back to third in 2015 when a wild season went all the way to a final-race duel between Lorenzo and Rossi.
Lorenzo has a spotty history at the Circuit of the Americas, where his best finish is third. In 2014, he jumped the start and was ordered to make a pit-lane drive through after the first lap before finishing 10th.
Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso will start fourth. Teammate Andrea Iannone would have been in that spot but must take a three-spot grid penalty for causing a final-lap crash with Dovizioso in Argentina that knocked both riders off the podium.
Moto2 qualifying was interrupted by a violent crash involving Efren Vazquez of team JPMoto Malaysia. Vazquez was airlifted to a hospital for evaluation for head trauma, according to race officials. He was not wearing a neck brace and could be seen moving his head side to side when loaded by stretcher into the emergency helicopter.