Sam Lowes delivered a dazzling performance under the Losail International Circuit floodlights in Qatar tonight to qualify in fifth position for his Moto2 debut.
The reigning World Supersport champion was less than 0.1s off the front row and under 0.5s behind pole setter and title favourite Tito Rabat.
Speed Up rider Lowes, who missed most of the last pre-season test in Jerez with severe tendonitis in his right arm, set a best time of 2.00.547 to slash over a second of his previous best time this weekend when he was 19th at the end of practice.
It was a stunning performance from the Lincolnshire rider, who had never seen the Losail International Circuit before he arrived in Doha earlier this week.
He’d never experienced the unique night schedule in Qatar and riding under floodlights, but after tonight’s brilliant qualifying performance, he is hoping to kick off his Moto2 career with a top five finish.
Speaking to MCN in the Losail International Circuit this evening, the 23-year-old said: “For my first time in Qatar and first time in a Moto2 qualifying session I am peaking and I am really happy to be as close to the top as I am.
"When I went out today I knew where the track was in my head and that definitely helped and my first flying lap was a quick one. We can take a lot of positives from just learning the track and the bike is coming better and better.
"I am confident we can improve the bike more for the race and I think I’m going to be pushing for the top five. And that would be mega for me in my first race.”
Lowes isn’t going to make any bold predictions ahead of his Moto2 debut tomorrow night and he certainly isn’t anticipating being in contention for a stunning win in the 20-lap race.
He added: “I’m not starting to make predictions because I am under no illusions how tough Moto2 is. I am not stupid and I know it is going to be difficult but I’ve qualified fifth on my first time here, so I’m not going to count myself out. I’ll just keep focused for the race and for me the most important thing is to get three solid finishes under my belt in these first three flyaways.
"Obviously I want to win but I am not ready to win in Moto2. I am not confident enough but I feel better and the bike is getting better. I’m just going to try and enjoy it. I was a bit nervous coming here for my first GP but I am so happy how it has gone.”
By qualifying in such a strong position on the second row, Lowes has given himself a great opportunity to gain experience of racing against the best that Moto2 has to offer including Rabat, Takaaki Nakagami, Thomas Luthi and Mika Kallio.
He said: “I need to get a mega start and just use my head and do nothing stupid but I can learn a lot from the starting position I am in. I am still using World Supersport lines a little bit. But I’m getting a lot better.
"The way you ride a Supersport bike, you can still make a good lap time riding the Moto2 bike the same way, but you can’t do 20 of them.”
Lowes had already picked up some tips in qualifying tonight when he had a spell behind Marc VDS Racing rider Rabat, who led the way with a 2.00.081.
He said: “Rabat had a lot of grip on the exit and a bit was him getting the bike stood up and having good track position. That’s one area I’d like to improve and maybe we can in that area and gain a couple of tenths from that for the race.
"I expect him (Rabat) to be strong and he is very consistent and I expect him to win the race. He is very experienced and one of the favourites for the championship, so to be this close makes me really happy.”