MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo overcame a collision with a seagull to set a lap record in qualifying for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, but will face a new challenge in the race itself.
Due to concerns over safety on the new surface at Victoria’s Phillip Island circuit, officials have decided to cut the event to 26 laps and require a mandatory change of bikes for the first time in the history of motorcycling’s elite division.
The MotoGP website reported after Saturday’s qualifying, which Lorenzo topped ahead of rookie championship leader Marc Marquez, that tire supplier Bridgestone could not guarantee the safety of its rear slicks beyond 14 laps.
“Every rider will be required to enter the pits and change to their second machine with fresh tires at least once during the race,” the statement said.
“No rider is permitted to make more than 14 laps on any one slick rear tire.”
Lorenzo, who trails Marquez by 43 points, needs to finish at least second to take the title race into the final two events of this season in Japan and their native Spain.
The two-time MotoGP champion will head his 20-year-old Honda rival and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi on the front row of the grid, having beaten Casey Stoner’s 2008 lap record on Saturday.
He had set an early leading time despite having a seagull stuck in his front fork after colliding with the bird, but needed to come back after pitting to reclaim pole position from Marquez with a sizzling lap of one minute 27.899 seconds.
“I had an impact with a bird on the first few laps on the bike, luckily we could take it off and I could make a second attempt without a passenger — maybe because of this I went a little bit faster and was able to make pole position,” said the Mallorcan, who sealed last year’s title at Phillip Island but has only won at the circuit in 250cc racing.
“I’m very happy because I pushed to the limit to make the lap and I made a very good time. We have some problems with the tire because the new asphalt makes a lot of graining. If we can make a good start we will try to get away at the beginning.”
Marquez is seeking to become the first rookie to win the title since American Kenny Roberts in 1978.
“The goal today was to get a front-row start, and we achieved it,” he said after clocking 1:28.120 and confirming his status as the best overall qualifier this season.
“We knew that Jorge and Valentino would both be very fast over a single lap with the new soft tire compound, something that they showed today.”
Seven-time world champion Rossi will be on the front row for the second successive race, though he will be seeking to improve on his fourth placing in Malaysia last weekend — when Dani Pedrosa won from teammate Marquez, with Lorenzo third.
“It looks like in the last races we have found a better solution for qualifying because at the beginning of the season I struggled a lot,” said seven-time world champion Rossi, who is fourth overall behind Pedrosa after returning to Yamaha following a disappointing two years with Ducati.