Espargaro sweeps up in Qatar, Marquez recovers

AFP| Updated: Mar 22, 2014, 08:53 AM IST

Doha: Spain`s Aleix Espargaro completed a clean-sweep of all three practice sessions for the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix while world champion Marc Marquez emerged as the fastest of the MotoGP title favourites.

Espargaro clocked 1min 54.773sec in Friday`s second session after also topping the time charts earlier in the day as well as on Thursday ahead of Sunday`s race under the desert floodlights at Losail.

Italy`s Ducati rider Andrea Iannone was second overall at 0.413sec off the pace with Honda`s Alvaro Bautista in third and Andrea Dovizioso, on another Ducati, in fourth spot.

Marquez, who made history in 2013 when he became the youngest world champion in his rookie year, still looked uneasy, was fifth fastest overall at 0.673sec off the top time on his Honda.

The Spaniard, who broke his right leg in a dirt-biking accident six weeks ago, was also the best-placed of the factory teams who did not test at the Gulf venue two weeks ago.

Yamaha Tech3`s Bradley Smith limped away from the huge crash but was still able to post the sixth best time.

Factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo, the 2010 and 2012 world champion, was seventh with a time of 1min 55.495sec to make sure of his place in the elite Q2 qualifying session on Saturday.

The Spaniard, who underwent three operations to repair his collarbone which was shattered twice in two crashes last season, had flirted with a position outside the top 10 until a late charge.

"We had the same feeling today with little grip on the rear with the soft tyre," said Lorenzo.

"We tried to adapt to the situation and the positive thing is that we are closer to the faster riders with race pace, maybe three or four tenths instead of one second so let`s see if tomorrow we can improve a bit more."

Dani Pedrosa, in the second factory Honda, was eighth, Stefan Bradl on another Honda was ninth while nine-time champion Valentino Rossi completed the top 10 on the second factory Yamaha.

"The bigger problem for us is the new tyre from Bridgestone that provides a lot less grip on the edge of our bike so it`s difficult," admitted Rossi, who is entering his 19th season in grand prix racing.

"I`m just tenth which is the minimum target, to stay in the top ten. A lot of riders are on the same pace though; we are very, very close. Espargaro remains one step ahead and also with race pace he is very fast.

"He remains the favourite for the race. The target is to try to start more in front in the race because it`s very difficult to overtake so tomorrow in the qualifying I have to go faster."