AUSTIN (AP) — Not even a stopped motorcycle and a “sprint” on foot could keep Marc Marquez off the pole at the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas.
With barely three minutes left in qualifying Saturday, Marquez had to ditch his Repsol Honda shortly after leaving his garage when a warning light flashed.
With time running out, he scaled a 5-foot concrete wall, scampered back about 50 yards to hop on a replacement bike before delivering a blistering final lap at the Circuit of the Americas to claim pole position for the third straight year.
“My adrenaline was 100 percent,” the two-time MotoGP world champion said. “Most important was we got the pole. It doesn’t’ matter how.”
His fastest lap was 2 minutes, 2.135 seconds and stunned the Ducati garage. Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso appeared to be cruising to the pole when Marquez was trotting through pit lane on foot.
Marquez dropped to seventh before he got back on the track and ripped through each sector, picking up time with each split to earn his 23rd career pole position.
Two hours later, Marquez said he still didn’t know if the warning light was an engine or gearbox problem. He stopped the bike to preserve the engine because MotoGP allows teams to use only five in a season.
But even then, he still had to run stiff-legged and stiff-armed in his protective riding gear.
“The last lap was pushing 100 percent,” he said. “I nearly crashed.”
Marquez was lucky to be so close to his garage when the problem happened. Had he been at the far turn, it would have been about a two-mile run and too far to even bother.
Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will start third and fourth Sunday. Rossi won the season opener in Qatar.
Marquez has all but owned the 3-year-old Circuit of the Americas since it opened, and Saturday’s events were the first time he had to overcome any drama in Austin.
In 2013, he claimed his first career pole position and first victory here. His return win last year was the second in a string of 13 victories as he stormed to the world title.
The 22-year-old Spaniard has ripped through every practice round, qualifying lap and race, topping the leaderboard every time except once. That came in Friday’s first practice in rainy conditions. And even then he was second behind Dovizioso.
Dovizioso was following Marquez on the final lap of qualifying.
“I wanted to see the details and all the secrets. He made a really amazing lap,” Dovizioso said.
Weather could play a factor Sunday. Forecasters call for a 70 percent chance for rain.
Lorenzo, who has been sick this week with bronchitis, said it will be hard to catch Marquez, wet or dry.
“My body makes it difficult to fight with the bike,” Lorenzo said. “The antibiotics still have a job to do. I’m better than yesterday, I’ll be better I hope tomorrow.”
The Circuit of the Americas layout, 3.42 miles long (5.5 kilometers), favors Marquez for his riding skills and his Honda’s ability to power out of the hairpin turns and into top speed on the long straightaways.
Despite his dominance the last two years, Marquez needs a boost. A flub through in the first turn in Qatar quickly left him at the back of the pack and he settled for a fifth-place finish.
A similar problem Sunday — either mechanical or driver error — would push the 2015 championship race wide open.