Marquez penalty puts Vinales on pole in Texas

Marc Marquez (93) of Spain pulls into his garage assignment during a free practice for the Grand Prix of the Americas motorcycle race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Saturday, April 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Maverick Vinales to start from pole position after Marc Marquez draws 3-spot penalty

AUSTIN, Texas — MotoGP promised tougher sanctions for dangerous racing. Marc Marquez is the first to feel their sting.

Marquez thought his blistering pace on his Repsol Honda had secured yet another pole position at the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas. Then it was gone, snatched away with a penalty for interfering with a hot lap by Movistar Yamaha rival Maverick Vinales. That means Marquez, who has dominated the Circuit of the Americas since 2013, will not start on pole for the first time in six years and will instead start fourth.

And it offers a sliver of hope to rest of the field that someone else might top the Texas podium on Sunday. That could be Vinales, who got the bump up to pole position.

Marquez seemed unruffled by the penalty. He was at ease and smiling during the post-qualifying news conference just minutes after the sanction was announced.

"I went fastest. Tomorrow will be the race," Marquez said. "My style is my style. Maverick has a good pace and maybe tomorrow in the race he can be faster than me."

But the penalty means yet another week of racing controversy for the four-time MotoGP champion. MotoGP officials had promised tougher penalties after a wild race in Argentina that saw Marquez in the middle of several crashes and dustups with other riders.

Marquez was penalized three times in Argentina, including sanctions for making contact with Aleix Espargaro and bumping Valentino Rossi, causing Rossi to crash. The penalties cost Marquez dearly as he finished 18th in a race he was favored to win. The four-time MotoGP champion is still looking for his first win of 2018.

Vinales declined to criticize Marquez after qualifying, but his body language on the bike indicated he was upset. He was on a good lap when Marquez got in his way, and Vinales angrily waved at him as they rode past each other. Riding too slow in the racing lane is considered a danger to other riders.

Marquez said he was looking at Suzuki's Andrea Iannone ahead of him and was surprised when Vinales came up from the rear. Iannone will start second on Sunday.

"I didn't expect Vinales," Marquez said. "Then I heard an engine behind me ... they said I was in the racing line."

Marquez' day was a wild one. A hard fall earlier in qualifying sent him and his motorcycling tumbling and spinning into the gravel. A quick bike change gave him time to lay down his best lap of the day.

Vinales wouldn't say if he could have taken pole without the interference.

"I'm focused on what I'm doing," Vinales said.

Marquez is still showing dominant form on a track that he's made a personal playground since his rookie season.

Marquez has won all five races here and has rarely failed to top the timesheets in practice. He's also won 12 straight races in the U.S. dating back to his first Moto2 race at Indianapolis in 2011.

Not everyone is so comfortable. Several riders have complained this week about bumpy track conditions.

The Circuit of the Americas was built for Formula One and the heavy cars and the soft, clay-based soil underneath have caused bumps and dips that have frustrated the motorcycle riders.

Despite efforts to fix them since last year's race, several riders have been very critical of the circuit again this year, most notably seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi, who called the bumps a "disaster" and "critical" for riders who deal with them at high speed.

"For me it's the worst situation during all the season. You have three or four bumps that are very big," Rossi said.

Track President Bobby Epstein said MotoGP safety officials had given the all clear for the track prior to the race weekend. Epstein said there was "work done overnight" Friday to address the riders' complaints, but he did not immediately provide details.

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