Lap record pace? A little cat and mouse? A grid guaranteed to create some stunning racing? Check. Check. Check. Here’s how the riders line up in Austin.
Qualifying quickly came around at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, and as ever the premier class did not fail to entertain. The mind games were in full swing in Q2, but the number 1 plated Ducati of Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) held strong to set a new lap record and take pole with a stunning 2:01.892. Second place went to a magical lap from Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) as he flew the flag for Honda and secured the middle spot on the front row, with Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) lining up alongside in P3.
You could cut the tension with a knife in Q1 as several big hitters sat in their garages ready to compete for promotion to Q2. Only two could go through as perennial frontrunners Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team), Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), and Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) all got ready to race.
Bezzecchi and Oliveira took initial control of the session and put themselves 1st and 2nd, but fast laps came in from Morbidelli and Zarco, the latter of whom bumped Oliveira out of contention. The riders then returned to the pits before the final fight for Q2 glory, which Bezzecchi started strongly on his first flyer, setting the fastest first sector, before pulling out the lap half way round. The Italian didn’t therefore manage to improve on his 2:05.253, but it was no bother as his earlier flyer proved enough to secure him a Q2 spot.
Mir put in the first punch of run 2, and with just two-thousandths of a second in it, the Repsol Honda rider snatched the provisional second spot. But it still wasn’t done. Hot laps were once again coming in, and Zarco was able to snatch first from Bezzecchi, putting the Championship leader under pressure.
No one else could improve though, putting Zarco and Bezzecchi through as Mir, Morbidelli and Oliveira just missed the cut.
As the first banker laps came in, it was Bagnaia who went top, but it was nothing to shout about for the Italian as a 2:02.576 was three-tenths shy of the fastest lap from Friday. There would surely be more to come, and there was.
Just a lap later, the red sectors began to light up the timing screens, and it was Bagnaia who moved the goalposts once again – although with Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) matched his lap time of a 2:02.242 just seconds after. With two-tenths to find to reach Jorge Martin’s (Prima Pramac Racing) pole record from 2022, The Martinator himself then crashed out of the session, meaning it would likely be someone else trying to beat that lap.
Then came the pitlane cat and mouse. Bagnaia went to head out on the circuit first but pulled to the side of the pitlane after seeing Alex Marquez and Marini shadowing him. Despite the trying to shake him off, Marquez latched onto the number 1 machine in hope of finding the perfect tow for a chance at pole, and the psychological warfare continued on the out lap too, with the number 73 remaining close company.
Time was ticking, however, and it was time to put the hammer down. At first though, Bagnaia set a slow couple of sectors before then making a big mistake on his first flyer, forced to regroup for his final chance with one minute left on the clock.
In the meantime, Rins had the bit between his teeth and was focussed on the job at hand. The Spaniard nailed the final sector to set the new fastest lap of the session and knock Bagnaia down to P2, making a serious statement in the process and throwing down the gauntlet.
Bagnaia was back in the groove though, and the reigning World Champion made a little history on the way to stealing back that pole position with the first-ever 2:01 lap of the Circuit of the Americas. Marini shadowed the factory Ducati rider to continue his dream weekend and bag himself the final spot on the front row, with Rins forced to settle for second but splitting the two Borgo Panigale machines.
Martin went back out on the circuit hoping to sprinkle some of his one-lap magic but went down once again, losing the front at Turn 2. Alex Marquez also went down and out of the session, but luckily for the Gresini rider he had done enough to end the session fourth fastest to head the second row ahead of Bezzecchi and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing).
The third row will also be one to keep an eye on as the lights go out, as 2021 World Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) is set to start from seventh, just ahead of Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) and Zarco.
The depth of field in MotoGP™ is as hot as ever, and with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo of Jack Miller and Brad Binder fronting the fourth row of the grid, the squad in orange cannot be underestimated. Miller will be looking to fight his way through the field, and Binder’s Argentina Tissot Sprint proves exactly why there’s still plenty on the table. With two crashes in Q2, Martin will also be looking to use his strong pace to battle through the pack from P12.
There’s plenty to look forward to as the attention now turns to the racing action in MotoGP™. Make sure to tune in as the first story unfolds in the Tissot Sprint at 15:00 local time (GMT -5)!
MotoGP Top 4 – Combined Qualifying – Americas GP
1. Francesco BAGNAIA – ITA – Ducati Lenovo – 2:01.892
2. Alex RINS – SPA – LCR Honda CASTROL – +0.160
3. Luca MARINI – ITA – Mooney VR46 Team – +0.289
4. Alex MARQUEZ – SPA – Gresini Racing MotoGP – +0.350
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