Spain’s Jorge Martin will start on pole for the Australian MotoGP after blasting to a new lap record in qualifying on Saturday, with world championship rival Francesco Bagnaia third on the grid.
South African Brad Binder (KTM) joins them on the front row for the 27-lap race later Saturday at an overcast Phillip Island after it was brought forward a day due to forecast wild weather.
The 13-lap sprint has been shifted to Sunday, but will only take place if safe to do so, with rain and wind gusts of up to 65 kph (40 mph) expected.
Aleix Espargaro on his Aprilia, Martin’s Ducati-Pramac teammate Johann Zarco and Gresini Racing’s Fabio Di Giannantonio fill the second row.
Only 18 points separate Ducati’s Bagnaia and Martin after the Italian snatched back the world title lead when his rival crashed out of the Indonesia grand prix last week.
Marco Bezzecchi, riding for the VR46 Ducati-satellite team, is still in the title hunt, but with 63 points to make up is in dire need of a win to stay in contention and will have to do so from 10th.
Martin set the best time of the weekend (1:27.869) with his first flying lap in Q2 and improved on his second to sit 0.236secs clear of Binder, with Bagnaia an early third.
After the field pitted for new rear tyres, Martin returned to blast a new lap record of 1:27.246, smashing the one he set last year on his way to pole, with Binder ending 0.416 adrift.
Bagnaia struggled for pace in Friday practice and failed to automatically qualify for Q2.
But he came through the tricky Q1 test fastest along with six-time world champion Marc Marquez, who will start in seventh.
Last year’s race winner Alex Rins withdrew ahead of qualifying due to pain from the leg fractures he sustained in Italy four months ago.
Rins only returned from the injury last week and took a tumble in practice on Friday.
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