Marquez pulls off sensational lap to claim pole in Austin

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez claimed his 23rd MotoGP™ pole position with an incredible final lap during a tense Q2 in Austin.

The lap was made even more remarkable by the fact the reigning MotoGP™ World Champion had to stop on track with 3 minutes remaining after a technical fault and run back down the pit lane to retrieve his second bike with just seconds to spare.

Not even this could stop the Spaniard as he went back out on track to set the fastest ever time on two-wheels around CoTA, a 2’02.135, over sixth-tenths quicker than his previous lap record set in Qualifying last year. It was a fitting end to a thrilling Q2, which saw the lead change hands a number of times in the dying seconds.

Despite overcast skies, track conditions were actually ideal for the fifteen-minute session, with Marquez finishing an impressive 0.339s ahead of his nearest rival, the pole sitter from Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Team GP15. The Spaniard explaining: “It was rather different to what we are used to, because when I crossed the line for the first time with the second tyre I saw a warning light on the bike. When that happens, we are normally advised to shut off the engine. I was able to get out again on the second bike and cross the line right at the cut-off point to put in a final lap, which worked out well for us.”

Dovizioso will start from 2nd place after just missing out on his second pole of the season in the dying moments of the session: “I am so happy to be on the front row, as I knew it would be hard. I was able to push really hard during qualifying, and I am very happy at how much we have improved the feeling over the weekend.”

Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo (+0.405s) took the final front row spot after completing a remarkable comeback from a bout of bronchitis that saw him down in 11th after FP2: “The antibiotics are doing their job, but I need to be in a perfect condition for tomorrow.”

The double MotoGP™ World Champion seemed pleased with how he had turned things around: “I was really satisfied with this time and position, I didn‘t expect to make the top five. Let‘s see what the weather is like tomorrow. Personally I prefer a dry race, but a wet race would be better for my physical condition. I am very happy that the Yamaha is becoming better in this track.”

Lorenzo's teammate and winner in Qatar Valentino Rossi (+0.428s) will start from the front of the second row and feels it will be a close race: “Last year there was a bigger difference to Marc‘s pace, this is very positive, but he remains the favourite for the race tomorrow. After him there‘s me, Jorge and Dovi very close in terms of rhythm.”

The leading Satellite rider was once again Cal Crutchlow (+0.478s) in 5th place on the CWM LCR Honda, who has impressed throughout the weekend. His compatriot Scott Redding (+0.539s) seems to be making rapid progress on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing Honda RC213V and will start from 6th: “Finally we’re finding our way with this bike. We struggled a lot in Qatar, but at least we left there with an idea of which direction we needed to go in and I think the lap times here show that it’s the right one. Each session we’ve improved, gone a little bit faster and closed the gap just a little bit more to the guys in front, while my race pace over the longer runs has also been good.”

The second factory Ducati of Andrea Iannone will start from 7th with the Team Suzuki Ecstar of Aleix Espargaro (8th) finishing ahead of his brother Pol (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) in 9th. Pol admitting that he was frustrated afterwards: “I made a mistake on my fast lap and ran straight on. After that, I was able to improve my lap time but the tyre wasn't fresh anymore and that unfortunately makes a huge difference at this track. I have nobody to blame as it was my own fault, but for sure starting from the back of the third row won't make things any easier tomorrow.”

Pol’s teammate Bradley Smith was disappointed to be starting from 10th on the grid after more bad luck for the British rider: “We had some technical troubles during FP4 and we couldn't fix them in time for QP2. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to stop to change the bike, which is far from ideal in a 15-minute session on such a long circuit. Furthermore, we didn’t have time to swap the front tyre on the second bike, so I did my laps with a used one. It was a session where nothing went our way, so it’s disappointing to start from the fourth row.”

Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Racing Ducati and the second Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR of Maverick Viñales will complete the 4th row on the grid for Sundays race.

Earlier on, it was Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales who made it through from Q1. Hector Barbera missed out on taking part in Q2 by less than five-hundredths of a second, but won the battle of the Open class riders and will start from the front of the 5th row in 13th place, ahead of Athina Forward Racing’s Stefan Bradl and Yonny Hernandez on the second Pramac Racing Ducati.

BATCH: I'LL BE READY FOR WARSAW

Aussie racer Troy Batchelor is confident he will take his place in the LOTTO Warsaw SGP on April 18, as he recovers from his horror spill at Swindon on Monday.

The Robins skipper was briefly knocked out and sustained rib and shoulder injuries in a collision with SGP rival Maciej Janowski in heat three of his side’s meeting with Poole.

Batchelor was discharged from hospital fairly quickly, but is set to seek further medical advice as he continues to suffer dizzy spells and breathing difficulties.

He is due to sit out Swindon’s home and away matches with Lakeside on Thursday and Friday, but is determined to get himself ready for the opening SGP showdown of 2015 in the Polish capital.

He told Total Swindon Sport: “I’m feeling pretty second hand and still a bit out of it after being knocked out, so it’s going to be a good couple of days off the bike if not a little bit longer.

“I can’t really see any problem with Warsaw, although you never know with head injuries and things like that, so we’ll keep an eye on things for a little while. I feel dizzy at times. I’ve had ice packs on all day and I’m doing everything I can.

“I’m hoping to get in and see the specialist at Ipswich today and go from there, but I’ve got physio to have as well. You need to keep your muscles moving and working because it’s when you stop you end up in trouble. We’ll have to wait and see but I’m confident I won’t be out for too long.”

Porsche and G-Drive Take 1-2 in Qualifying for 6 Hours of Silverstone WEC

The no17 Porsche of Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley took pole position and underlined their pre-season testing pace when the 1m39.721 average lap time was three second faster than the 2014 pole time. 

The no18 919 of Neel Jani and  Romain Dumas completed a Porsche front row lockout for tomorrow’s 6 Hours of Silverstone, pushing the no8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis  onto the second row by just 0.012 seconds. Reigning world champions Toyota will start 4th and 6th with the no1 TS040 of Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima just 0.030 seconds behind the no8 Audi and 0.661 behind the leading Porsche.

In LMP2 G-Drive Racing also scored a 1-2 in qualifying for tomorrow’s race, a great achievement for the Russian team who are running two cars for the first time in the World Endurance Championship.  The no28 Ligier JS P2-Nissan of Ricardo Gonzalez and Luis Felipe Derani beat their teammates Roman Rusinov and Sam Bird in the no26 Ligier to the top spot by just 0.062 seconds.  The 1m48.021 average time was over one second faster than last year’s pole time, set by Rusinov and Olivier Pla in the G-Drive Racing Morgan.

The brand new KCMG Oreca 05 was third fastest, finishing one tenth of a second ahead of the 2014 ELMS Champions Signatech Alpine, the French team making their WEC qualifying debut.

NT pledges further $8 million to Hidden Valley

The Northern Territory Government has confirmed an additional $8.05 million worth of funding for upgrades to Hidden Valley Raceway.

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles has announced the funding ahead of the territory’s 2015 Budget.

It comes in addition to the $9.6 million of public support for upgrades at the venue undertaken over the last 18 months.

Recent work has included a full resurfacing of the circuit, completed late last year, and the replacement of the earth-filled tyre bundles between turns 1 to 4 with concrete.

The latest funding consists of $4 million to replace water mains and systems, $2 million to install a glass-fronted structure that includes seating, bar and kiosk and a VIP area, $1 million to install lighting and power for the pit area $750,000 for upgrades to the Darwin speedway race surface, $200,000 to upgrade air fences and $100,000 to install WiFi throughout the complex.

According to Mr Giles, the continued upgrades will help keep the V8 Supercars Championship coming back to the NT once the current contract between the parties expires in 2018.

“The Territory is fast building a reputation as a haven for motorsports and this significant investment will help ensure events like the V8 Supercars are here to stay,” Mr Giles said.

“Motorsports fans have a lot to look forward to in Budget 2015 with a multi-million dollar package of sports infrastructure spending right across the Territory.”

Funding for a new Summernats-style modified car festival in Alice Springs is also expected in the 2015 Budget ahead of the inaugural event in September.

FIA post-qualifying press conference - China

DRIVERS: 1 - Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2 - Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3 - Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

TV UNILATERAL

Q: Lewis, quickest in both sessions yesterday, quickest again today in all sessions, it’s looking pretty good for you this weekend?

Lewis Hamilton: Yeah, I think China’s continuing to be generally a good circuit for me, and a very, very positive vibe here. The car’s handling fantastically well this weekend, a lot better, in terms of the whole weekend, compared to how it was in Malaysia. At the end of the day this team continues to do an amazing job. The guys back at the factory did a great job to kind of regroup after the last race and bring some improvements for this weekend and I feel very grateful for that.

Q: Nico, we heard you on the radio at the end there sounding frustrated. Did you think pole was there for you today?

Nico Rosberg: Definitely, yeah. When it’s four hundredths, it’s nothing, you know. So I was frustrated, I am frustrated, yeah, because it’s so close and of course I would have wanted to have pole today.

Q: Thank you. Sebastian, what are your hopes for taking Mercedes in the race, after what you did in Malaysia, what are your hopes for taking them in the race again tomorrow?

Sebastian Vettel: Well, first of all, happy with today I guess. I think it was a, yeah, different strategy we had in Q3, going only once, on a new set. Obviously these guys were a bit quicker than we expected to be honest, but yeah I think P3 was our maximum today. For tomorrow I think we should be a bit closer. How close we will find out. Definitely looking forward to going racing, and hopefully go race them tomorrow. It’s not very far to turn one, so I guess that’s fairly straightforward, but it’s a long race and tyres are very important here. Obviously we try to do well and get a lot of points.

Q: Just back to you Lewis, what lessons were learned from Malaysia that the team has brought into this weekend?

LH: I think there are too many to mention but obviously it wasn’t the tidiest weekend for us. But more so, for me and my guys on our side of the garage, we just tried to get our full programme and fortunately we didn’t have any problems so far this weekend and that’s a big step for us. But obviously we’ve got a tough race ahead of us tomorrow. Nico’s very quick and also the Ferrari’s are very good still, with their long-run pace, so it’s not over by all means.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Lewis, this has always been a great track for you, you’ve got a good record around here - what is it about this track, do you think, that suits you so well.

LH: People keep asking me that. I don’t really know. Have you seen the banners that I have here? The support I have here’s pretty unreal. Otherwise… I don’t know. I just like the track. I guess it just naturally suits - a little bit - my driving style as opposed to other circuits for me. And one that I generally just really enjoy driving. It’s a tough circuit, it’s got a great combination of corners and the race is a good challenge.

Q: Nico, four one-hundredths of a second the difference today. You’ve had success around here as well. Where did it get away from you today, do you think?

NR: There’s not one specific place. It’s just four hundredths and that makes it even more annoying because it’s just very, very close. A lap is never 100 per cent perfect and four hundredths is really the blink of an eye nearly y’know? That makes it even more disappointing.

Q: Sebastian. Mercedes have saved a set of tyres for the race tomorrow, obviously their concern after what happened in Malaysia. How do you win this race tomorrow?

SV: I think so have we. We’ll see. I think we knew that it will be tough today in qualifying to be really, really close. I think Q1 but then especially Q2 looked quite promising. In Q3 I think it was a bit what we saw in practice, so quite a large gap. For us we’re fairly happy to make sure we are right behind them. Obviously we want to close the gap. Maybe tomorrow we are a bit closer, but for now I think we can be reasonably happy. Bit of a shame not to get both cars in the second row. As I was told, Kimi was a bit unlucky on the warm-up lap. Yeah, tomorrow’s race though, we should have good pace, so we’ll see what we can do.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Niu Hong Lin - China Radio International) Lewis, you’ve been nominated by the Laureus award and the ceremony would be on Wednesday so we do not really expect you to show up as you have a race soon after. So do you have anything to say about that, and maybe especially to Chinese fans?

LH: Definitely. I feel very proud and kind of honoured to be one of the nominees. That’s very cool. I don’t think I’ve been nominated many times if any. I think perhaps maybe one year, many many years ago, so... It’s a very prestigious event and I’ve got to witness many other great athletes win it, so I’m just grateful to be in amongst a great group and regardless of if I do or don’t win.

To the fans, they’ve been amazing. Every single year I come here... I couldn’t imagine it growing but there’s more and more people I get to see and the flags, the support is just... it’s almost like it’s my home Grand Prix, so I really do appreciate it.

Q: (Michael Schmidt - Auto, Motor und Sport) Seb, did you chose this tyre strategy because it looked like you could have gone through on a hard set of tyres through Q1?

SV: I disagree. I think it was probably possible but very very close. If you don’t make it, you start the race tomorrow from P16 or P17, so I think that’s why we decided to do that and if I’m right, I think everybody put on the options in the first part of qualifying. I’m not sure about those two. They didn’t? Then they were just quick. Obviously we tried to save a set for tomorrow and hopefully we can be a bit closer in the race. 

Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas: Can it get any better?

The 2015 MotoGP™ World Championship continues with the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, after a thrilling opening race in Qatar.

As the paddock prepares for the race at the 5.5 km Circuit of the Americas, there are a number of talking points on everyone’s lips with fans wondering if it could possibly get any better after an incredible opening round under the floodlights in Qatar. It is the third year in a row that the MotoGP™ World Championship returns to COTA, with Honda having completed a 1-2 (Marquez and Pedrosa) at each previous race.

Ducati confirmed that they are “back” in Qatar, completing the reversal in the Italian manufacturers fortunes since Luigi Dall’Igna joined the factory team as Sporting Director from Aprilia at the end of the 2013 season. The new GP15 showed that it was not just a “one-lap wonder” on the softer tyre option and Dovizioso will fancy his chances after he claimed his first podium for Ducati in Austin last season. One change for the Ducati Team and Pramac Racing, is that they will now have to make do with 22 litres of fuel as opposed to 24, after achieving three podiums in the last two seasons.

Valentino Rossi was the focus of the world’s media after taking a spectacular race win under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit. Can Rossi produce the same in Austin? There is no doubt that the nine-time World Champion still has the same hunger for success as when he made his World Championship debut 20 years ago, although his best finish in Austin is a 6th place back in 2013. His teammate Jorge Lorenzo had to make do with 4th in Qatar, after he experienced an issue with his helmet that ruined his chances for the win. The Spaniard had actually led the race at times and was dicing with the Ducati’s until the problem, but believes he can be battling it out for the race win in Austin where he has a best place finish of 3rd.

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez got his title defence off to the worst possible start in Qatar, when he ran wide at the very first corner, eventually finishing the race in 5th. Marquez will be confident he can respond in Austin having won the previous two races held at the circuit. In fact the Spanish rider actually left COTA last year having topped every practice session, qualified on pole, and led every lap of the race on the way to his win, setting a new Circuit Record in the process.

Dani Pedrosa confirmed he will miss the Americas & Argentina rounds due to the arm pump issue that he revealed after the Qatar race, which  has been affecting him for the past year. The Spaniard will be replaced by Hiroshi Aoyama, who has filled in for Pedrosa before at the Dutch TT in Assen in 2011. Aoyama has 64 races under his belt in the MotoGP™ class, and finished 12th last year in Austin on the Aspar Honda RCV1000R.

Suzuki made their return to MotoGP™ in Qatar, and as to be expected there were some teething problems for the Japanese manufacturer, with both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales down on power compared to their rivals. Team Suzuki Ecstar have never raced at COTA before, as the track was added to the MotoGP™ calendar after the Japanese manufacturer left the class in 2011.

CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow won the battle of the satellite riders during the first round, finishing 0.5s ahead of his compatriot Bradley Smith on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. Crutchlow crashed out of the Austin race last year, but in 2013 he managed a creditable 4th place. These two look set for a season long battle and it should be close once again as Smith also seems to like the track, finishing 5th at COTA last season as the leading Yamaha. His teammate Pol Espargaro should also be in the mix having only lost out to the British rider by just 0.1s in Qatar.

Expect to see more from Scott Redding on the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V after he crashed out on the 2nd lap of the Austin GP last year, plus don't forget the Pramac Racing bikes of Yonny Hernandez and Danilo Petrucci which once again could perform well in qualifying as they make use of their softer tyre option.

Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera was the top Open class rider at Losail, although he should face a tougher fight from German Stefan Bradl on the Athina Forward Racing bike this time around, with the German taking 4th at COTA in 2014.

CWM LCR Honda’s Jack Miller will be hoping to improve his fortunes after he crashed out of his MotoGP™ debut in Qatar, and he has tasted success at COTA before having won the 2014 Moto3™ race in Austin from pole position.

One man who will be looking for a good result in Austin is Aspar MotoGP Team’s Nicky Hayden who will be his starting 200th MotoGP™ race in front of his home fans, with his previous best finish at the circuit being a 9th place two seasons ago.

The Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas takes place between 10-12 April, with practice on the Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday.