(Reuters) - Frenchman Johann Zarco took the first pole position of the MotoGP season for the non-works Tech3 Yamaha team on Saturday with a record lap around Qatar’s floodlit Losail circuit.
The twice-Moto2 champion’s best time of one minute 53.680 seconds was 0.247 faster than the previous lap record set by Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo in 2008 at the desert track outside Doha.
Honda’s Spanish reigning world champion Marc Marquez was 0.202 slower than Zarco and will start Sunday’s night race in the middle of the front row.
Italian Danilo Petrucci was third on the grid, 0.005 slower than Marquez, as the best of the Ducati riders on a non-works Pramac team bike.
The pole was Zarco’s third in the top category of motorcycle grand prix racing that he entered last year.
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow will line up fourth for LCR Honda while factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso, Marquez’s main rival last year, qualified fifth.
Italian great Valentino Rossi will start his 23rd season of grand prix racing, at the age of 39, from eighth place for Yamaha.
“Feeling good ... a good way also to begin this new season,” said Zarco, who crashed in final free practice but has been tipped as a likely race winner and possible championship contender this season.
“We need to make a step to be able to win tomorrow. But at least when I have the light bike with the new tyre, I feel so good.”
Marquez, who has won four of the past five MotoGP titles, was happy with his performance.
“Today Johann was amazing, I followed him and he was very fast. We will see tomorrow the race pace,” he said.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Neville Dalton