Marquez takes pole in Buri Ram

Marquez takes pole in Buri Ram

Marc Marquez pilots his Honda around the Chang International Circuit in Buri Ram during practice on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
Marc Marquez pilots his Honda around the Chang International Circuit in Buri Ram during practice on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

BURI RAM: MotoGP leader Marc Marquez celebrated his 50th pole position at the inaugural PTT Thailand Grand Prix on Saturday, holding off Valentino Rossi late in a pulsating qualifying session for Sunday's race.

The four-time world champion lapped the Chang International Circuit in one minute 30.088 seconds on his Honda, pipping veteran Yamaha rider Rossi by 0.011 seconds on a scorching hot day.

Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took the third spot on the front row, with Yamaha-rider Maverick Vinales fourth.

Marquez, on 246 points, holds a commanding 72-point lead in the championship race ahead of second placed Dovizioso with five races left in the series.

Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo, fourth in the championship, earlier pulled out of the race weekend after injuring his wrist during a heavy fall in Friday’s second practice.

Thai fans who have descended on Buri Ram by train, bus and car are bonding over a shared love of Marquez, and organisers hope the enthusiasm for the sport will catch fire across Southeast Asia.

Sporting a hat emblazoned with Marquez’s number 93, Pornrathee Pinchanpalee waited outside the exit of the Chang International Circuit late Friday to catch a glimpse of her favourite rider, even though she managed to take a photo with him earlier.

She was in a group of several other Marquez-mad fans waiting for the 25-year-old star after the first practice sessions ahead of Sunday’s race.

“We came separately. I’m alone, but we met here,” said the 38-year-old, who lives about a 90-minute drive from Buri Ram.

“Marc is so nice, he is so kind. He always has positive thinking. I love it,” she said. “I mean he’s the champion, and he’s handsome also.”

“Give us seven!” chanted a friend of Pornrathee, putting up a hand sign with the number of premier titles Marquez has won across divisions.

Promoters expect more than 100,000 people to descend on Buri Ram over the weekend. Sunday’s race is the 15th leg of the 19-event MotoGP season. A strong performance would push Marquez closer to the title.

Marquez also lit up social media in a pre-race event in Bangkok on Oct 3, when he rode around old town in a tuk-tuk.

“It’s the most special thing. I’m close to a world-class racer,” one man wrote on Twitter while posting a selfie of him with Marquez in the background.

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