Zarco breaks track record to claim Qatar pole after Rossi crashes in practice
Johann Zarco took the first MotoGP pole of the season ahead of reigning champion Marc Marquez in Qatar, breaking the track's lap record as Valentino Rossi recovered from a crash in practice to place eighth.
Until Zarco's blistering 1:53.680 lap, the focus of the day had been on Rossi after he went down early in the third practice, with considerable damage done to his Yamaha.
But Rossi, who signed a two-year contract renewal with his team earlier this week, was still able to post the ninth-fastest time in practice and went one place better in qualifying.
Zarco had looked like the standout performer heading into qualifying and his stunning final lap smashed a 10-year track record to nudge ahead of Marquez on the front row.
Here's a look at THAT lap from @JohannZarco1 and the grid for the first #MotoGP race of 2018 #QatarGP pic.twitter.com/nODnTsNJk2
— MotoGP (@MotoGP) March 17, 2018
The future of the Frenchman - a Moto2 champion in 2015 and 2016 - has been up in the air, with Honda among those reportedly interested in poaching the Tech3 Yamaha rider for 2019.
And Zarco would welcome the prospect of lining up alongside the dominant Marquez at Honda.
"To be Marquez's team-mate could be a nice thing," he said. "It's kind of a dream team, this Honda team. I remember some pictures of Mick Doohan, then Valentino Rossi, now Marquez.
"I need to wait and take the decision. First of all we do the first few races and then we will know."
Danilo Petrucci left it late to join Zarco and Marquez at the front with the third fastest time, while the second row will contain Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Alex Rins.
Dani Pedrosa, Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo make up a star-studded third row for Sunday's race.