BURIRAM: Newcomer Fabio Quartararo snatched pole position on Saturday for Thailand’s MotoGP, but reigning champion Marc Marquez remained hot favourite to clinch his sixth premier class title at the Chang International Circuit after coming third in qualifying.
The 20-year-old Frenchman Quartararo sealed pole with a 1min 29.719sec qualifying lap, just ahead of Spanish compatriots Maverick Vinales and Marquez.
Quartararo’s rookie season has seen the Petronas Yamaha rider climb to seventh in the rankings, fast emerging as one of Marquez’s biggest rivals.
“I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s race,” a beaming Quartararo told MotoGP TV.
Marquez, 26, has a comfortable 98-point lead against his closest rival Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, who finished seventh in qualifying.
The Honda rider only needs to best Dovizioso by two points in Sunday’s race to seal his sixth premier class title and eighth overall championship.
But he has struggled throughout in Buriram, with a crash sending him to hospital on Friday and another spill during qualifying.
Marquez told MotoGP TV he wished he had been a little faster but was still “happy” with the result.
The superstar won the first Grand Prix in Thailand last year in a thrilling last-corner showdown with Dovizioso.
Clear skies prevailed for the afternoon session after a seasonal downpour soaked the track early Saturday, delaying start times and creating challenging conditions for riders.
The race is being hosted for the second year in a row in the small northeastern town of Buriram, which has boomed on the back of multi-million-dollar investment in sports infrastructure.
But it is scheduled towards the tail end of monsoon season, and more rain is forecast for Sunday’s race day.