Rookie rider on pole for season-ending MotoGP

Updated November 17, 2019

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VALENCIA: French whizz kid Fabio Quartararo romped to his sixth pole position of the championship at the season-closing Valencia Grand Prix on Saturday, with world champion Marc Marquez right on his tail.

Under bright blue skies, Yamaha-SRT’s 20-year-old Quartararo dominated the closing stage of qualifying on the tight 4km Ricardo Tormo circuit after choosing the more dangerous hard tyres for the cold conditions.

Ducati have won three times at Valencia and their Australian rider Jack Miller also made the front row to give the Italian team a shot at a surprise victory on Sunday.

No French rider has won a MotoGP race for 20 years, but the rookie Quartararo insisted his aim was only a seventh podium finish of the campaign on Sunday.

Trying to snap the French hoodoo, Quartararo could be forgiven for seeing an omen in the fact Regis Laconi’s triumph in 1999 was at Valencia and was achieved on a Yamaha.

“The main goal tomorrow [Sunday] is to get a very strong first three laps, after that we’ll see, the target is the podium,” he said. “For a first season to be ‘Rookie of the year’ with six poles and six podiums is great, especially if you look where we came from.”

Six-time top-class world champion Marquez managed second place on the grid despite a fall in practice on Saturday morning.

“It was a good lap in the end, we are happy with second place,” said the Spaniard, who has won 11 of the 18 races so far this season. “For the race on Sunday we will have to do it differently because Quartararo was very fast.”

The emergence of the French rookie has spiced up the close of the 2019 season with the Yamaha man losing out on the last lap in cat-and-mouse struggles with Marquez twice.

The race will also serve as a swansong for retiring former three-time MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo, 32, whose season has been littered with accidents.

“He is a real champion. The moment he feels he can’t be in the top places he decided to stop,” his team-mate Marquez said.

Lorenzo’s place in the Honda team may be taken by Marquez’s younger brother Alex, champion of the Moto2 category this season.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019