Jorge Martin wins pole for Australian MotoGP as all three divisions set new qualification records

Martin qualification Australian MotoGP
Steve Wobser / Getty Images

With a lap of 1:27.767, Jorge Martin topped qualification in the senior division of the Australian MotoGP as records were also set in Moto2 and Moto3. All three previous records stood for eight or more years.

In his first attempt at Phillip Island, Martin eclipsed the record set in 2013 by Jorge Lorenzo. Second-place Marc Marquez also crossed under the checkers with a lap below the old record as the three principal championship contenders line up immediately behind them.

In the latest round of the MotoGP schedule in Thailand, Francesco Bagnaia closed to within two points of championship leader Fabio Quartararo. This week, he rolls off the grid two positions in front of his rival with the third-fastest lap of 1:27.953, which was .186 seconds off the pole. Quartararo starts fifth with Aleix Espargaro slotting in between.

Including Sunday’s Australian MotoGP, three rounds remain on the schedule, which means one of these points’ leaders has an opportunity to set themselves up as the frontrunner for the title.

In a spirited qualification session for the Australian MotoGP, Martin set the early pace in Q2 only to see Bagnaia eclipse him momentarily. Quartararo came close to insinuating himself into the pole mix before getting pushed back to fifth as the time ran off the clock.

In the 2019 edition of this race, the last time the race was run after being canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bagnaia finished best in fourth. Espargaro finished 10th. Quartararo failed to complete a lap that season.

The Japanese MotoGP winner, Australian Jack Miller qualified among the top 10 in front of his countrymen.

Additionally, Fermin Aldeguer posted a time of 1:32.233 in Moto 2 to beat that division’s previous qualification record for the Australian GP set in 2014 as Ayumu Sasaki circled the track at 1:35.854 to better Moto3’s previous record set that same year.

Moto2 points leader, Augusto Fernandez was only .073 second off Aldeguer’s time to start second.

Cameron Beaubier was 11th as the highest qualified American rider in the field. Joe Roberts will start 15th.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”