MotoGP: Marquez masterclass for Mugello pole position

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Marc Marquez played qualifying to perfection in the Italian Grand Prix as the reigning champion struck late to take his second pole position at Mugello and reassert some authority over ever-impressive rookie Fabio Quartararo, setting a new lap record in the process. Nevertheless, Frenchman Quartararo will start his first premier class race at Mugello from second as both top Yamaha and top Independent Team rider, with Danilo Petrucci completing the front row and flying the tricolore after a difficult day for a couple of his compatriots on home turf.

Speaking afterwards, Marquez said: “It was a difficult qualifying because it was different to other races and a bit hard to find space. With the first tyre I was ready to attack straight away but then Dovi slowed down so I overtook him and I lost some time there. Pirro was also trying to follow me for the slipstream so tactics were needed. With the second tyre we just followed our strategy and I found a good space with slipstream and I calculated the space to Dovi perfectly. The pole position is important but the most important part is being on the front row. There are a lot of opponents for tomorrow’s race!”

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Cal Crutchlow will start from the second row, happy with his pace as he joins Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller just in front, saying afterwards: “I feel good actually and definitely a lot better than I did yesterday. We decided to focus our work on one bike and one setting which was good, because we could adjust small things from there. I wanted to be a bit quicker, and down into the 1’45s because that would have been there. We’re half a second behind Marquez in qualifying, but with the tow he got he probably picked up four-tenths, so we’re right there.

“I’m quite pleased with my qualifying lap because I did it all alone and it felt good. We threw everything at it with the package we have, which hasn’t felt the best. We’re working hard and the LCR Honda team are working great, getting the information we need to improve the bike. Overall, it’s good. It’s probably going to be a tyre war tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll make the right choices.”

However, the day was a disaster for many of the established names, with Andrea Dovizioso trailing the third row in ninth, Alex Rins back in 13th and a complete disaster for Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in 17th and 18th.

Rookies Bagnaia and Quartararo lead the way

Rookies Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo have led the way on the opening day of action at the Italian Grand Prix, taking the top two spots at Mugello from former podium finisher Danilo Petrucci. Ending the day a mere 0.046 apart after two sessions, it won’t be enough to secure themselves a route straight to Q2, however, with more sun forecast for Saturday morning’s FP3 session.

Pol Espargaro was an impressive fourth on the KTM, heading a second row of Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, still recovering from illness. Speaking afterwards, he said: “Today we worked just with the tyres for the race. I am still a little bit sick from yesterday and also the bike wasn’t 100% either, hopefully a good night’s rest will help us both to be back at 100% tomorrow! Even like this we aren’t far and we just need to keep pushing tomorrow. It’s Friday and we didn’t put a new tyre in at the end so we are still feeling good.”

Cal Crutchlow was eighth, behind Alex Rins, and was pleased enough with his day’s work, saying: “It wasn’t a bad day to be honest. I feel not too bad with the bike, but I don’t feel fantastic and there are still a lot of areas to improve on. That’s the main thing for tomorrow, we need to improve the feeling of the front of the bike and also we need to look for a bit more speed. Yes, in the straight, but also around the lap – we need two or three tenths a lap, the same as what I needed in Le Mans. Overall, although we’re disappointed in one way to be in eighth, we have to be pleased to be in the top ten because that’s where we need to be, especially as there were a few surprises in the session  about who was up there.”

However, it was a disasterous day for some of the established contenders, with 2017 and 2018 Mugello race winners Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo in 11th and 20th respectively, while Valentino Rossi was 18th.

Rossi fired up for home race

Valentino Rossi says he’s looking forward to racing in front of his home fans this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix – but knows that it won’t be easy to be competitive on the 2019 Yamaha M1 at Mugello. Struggling so far with horsepower and top end speed and heading to one of the fastest tracks of the season, he’s hoping that Mugello’s unique layout will work in his favour.

“I’m glad it’s time for Mugello, it’s a special weekend and a special race for all the Italian riders. It has a fantastic atmosphere, but it’s also a bit tricky to manage with all the fans, but it’s really great. This is one of the most beautiful race tracks of the year. It’s a track I really like, but it will be hard because everybody is very fast.

“Mugello does have less acceleration from a low speed, so I think we could be faster than in Le Mans, but it is also true that there is a very long straight. Surely this will be our weak point, but if we work well, we can defend ourselves. We need to try our best to be competitive and give the maximum.”

And while Rossi might be hedging his bets early in the weekend, team boss Massimo Meregalli says that he’s much more confident about what the wily old Italian might be able to pull out of the bag in front of his rabid home crowd.

“We now come to Mugello, which is very important to the team, because it’s our home GP. It’s a very special event, because the atmosphere is really unique. The crowds here are fantastic. ‘Al Mugello non si dorme’! This also adds some pressure, because we want to do them proud. Though Mugello is usually an OK track for us, we expect another hard-fought GP weekend, because the level is so close.

“But we know both our riders really like this track and are very fast here. Valentino is always highly motivated, but this weekend perhaps even more so, if that’s possible, because he is on home soil and he was close to a podium at the last GP.”

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Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer