AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Marc Marquez found enough speed and balance to grab another pole position at the Grand Prix of the Americas. Maverick Vinales may have what it takes to finally beat him to the checkered flag in Texas.
Repsol Honda’s Marquez won pole position Saturday for the fifth consecutive year, edging Movistar Yamaha’s Vinales in a pulsating final-lap duel between the Spanish riders that Marquez won by .13 seconds.
Marquez, a three-time MotoGP champion, has dominated this race since it began in 2013, and will be pursuing his 30th career victory on Sunday. Vinales won the first two races of 2017 in Qatar and Argentina, and leads the season points standings in his first year with Movistar Yamaha.
“This circuit has been really good to me in the past years, but Maverick can push me,” Marquez said. “This pole makes me feel really good because I honestly didn’t expect it.”
Marquez crashed out from the lead in Argentina two weeks ago and needs a win if he is to mount a charge behind Vinales, and they battled back-and-forth over two days of practice and qualifying for the top speeds. Marquez had two more practice round crashes Saturday morning.
After nearly colliding with teammate Valentino Rossi early in qualifying, a whisker-close call that left Vinales shaking his fist on the track, Vinales ripped through a scorching lap on his final attempt. He appeared to have the pole before Marquez snatched it away with a burst of speed through the final sector to finish in 2 minutes, 2.741 seconds.
“When I saw the lap time I thought it,” Vinales said. “I hope I can battle with (Marquez) until the end.”
Rossi will start third Sunday. Marquez teammate Dani Pedrosa will start fourth. France’s Johann Zarco of Monster Yamaha Tech 3 continues to impress in his first season in MotoGP and will start fifth. Zarco finished on the podium the last two years riding in the Moto2 class.
Marquez has owned the premiere class in the Texas race and hasn’t been challenged in a way he’s likely to face on Sunday. He got his first career pole position and first career win here as a rookie in 2013. His 6-second win in 2016 was his largest margin so far.
But 2017 has been a different sort of season and Vinales will be pushing him for a different result.
Marquez sits a distant eighth place in the standings. He was pulling away early in Argentina only to crash out with an uncharacteristic mistake. The fall opened the door for Vinales’ victory and gave him another boost of confidence as a legitimate title contender in his third season in MotoGP.
“We can push (Sunday),” Vinales said. “I think we are quite ready.”
All of the riders have been battling tough racing conditions at the 6-year-old Circuit of the Americas.
Riders have complained about a bumpy surface that has bounced them around— Jorge Lorenzo compared it to a supercross track — and cool temperatures Saturday morning led to a series of crashes in practice.
“The track is in bad condition,” Rossi said, noting rough spots near the start and finish were giving the riders the most problems. “The bumps are very deep.”
Suzuki’s Alex Rins fractured his left wrist in a morning crash, knocking him out of Sunday’s race. Marquez appeared lucky to escape his falls without injury, most notably after the second when his motorcycle nearly rolled over the back of his legs. Vinales made through off his sessions Friday and Saturday without falling.
Marquez said he practiced on two motorcycles with completely different setups Saturday morning before settling on the one that secured pole position in the afternoon.
“I said this is the right one. It was about finding balance,” Marquez said. “I knew it would be difficult to be on pole position.”