THE “Little Samurai” struck again.
Spaniard Dani Pedrosa timed his final qualifying run to perfection to snatch a surprise pole position in the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit yesterday.
Pedrosa put in a number of quick laps towards the end and stole it on his final attempt – with seconds remaining on the clock – to take his fifth pole at the Malaysian track.
Pedrosa, riding for Repsol Honda Team, topped the timesheets with 1:59.212 at the end of a frenetic qualifying shootout while his teammate and world championship leader Marc Marquez could only finish seventh after an early crash.
Pedrosa was also on pole at Sepang in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2015.
The 32-year-old has a good record at Sepang – whether it is dry or wet.
His first victory at Sepang in 2012 was also his first MotoGP win – and it was in wet conditions. He also won in 2013 and 2015.
Johann Zarco of France was second fastest with 1:59.229, ahead of title challenger Andrea Dovizioso of Italy.
Dovizioso, who was fastest in both practice sessions on Friday, was third quickest in sweltering conditions with 1:59.236.
Pedrosa said that race strategy would be critical in today’s race, which could see Marquez crowned as world champion.
“It was a very close one because the lap times were very tight from the beginning in the dry session,” said Pedrosa.
“All sessions, the positions from first to 10th were 0.4 and all riders were lapping the track really fast.
“Fortunately the timing of the track was quite good and I could be alone in my laps as there was no traffic.
“Also, I think both runs I did I felt good. So in the first run, I could get some rhythm for improving in the second run.
“Basically it just makes things a little better in the second run. It was quite positive, quite a good lap time because the track was very warm.
“It’s a race that you need some strategy, so everything is important for tomorrow (today).”
Marquez had a more difficult session after his first lap ended in disaster.
The reigning MotoGP world champion lost the front end at the final corner and fell – forcing him to wheel his stricken machine into the pit and change to his spare Honda bike.
He eventually finished seventh – to be on the third row – with 1:59.694.
It’s only the second time ever in the premier class that Marquez has failed to qualify in the top six.
All eyes will be on Marquez as he leads the championship by 33 points ahead of Dovizioso.
Marquez has 269 points and will secure his fourth premier class crown as long as he carries a 25-point advantage over Dovizioso going into the final round in Valencia, Spain, in two weeks’ time.
Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi, who will start from fourth, is expecting a very open race.
“It is very, very open – the fight for victory, the fight for the podium because a lot of different riders have the pace for the podium,” said the multiple world champion from Italy.