For the first time this season, Marc Marquez will start a race off the front row at the Dutch TT.

One of MotoGP's marquee races in Assen will see the Repsol Honda rider begin in fourth on the grid, but his chances of improving the championship picture on Sunday still look strong.

Marquez holds a 37-point lead over Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso, who struggled to 11th place in qualifying, while his next closest title rival Alex Rins is only one place up the road in third.

That means the five-time world champion is right in the mix at a circuit where he has finished on the podium in all six of his previous appearances, though just two of those were wins.

The Catalunya Grand Prix last time out became easy for him when team-mate Jorge Lorenzo caused a second-lap crash that led to the retirements of the four other riders challenging Marquez at the front.

A dreadful season for Lorenzo after his move from Ducati got worse when he crashed out in practice for this race and fractured two vertebrae, ruling him out of this meeting and the next one in Germany.

Fabio Quartararo is the youngest rider to record back-to-back MotoGP poles, with Maverick Vinales and Rins joining him on the front row.

"I'm happy with the race pace and we knew before the qualifying that it would be tough as there is more competition than normal," said Marquez. "In the afternoon, once the conditions get warmer, we are there. 

"It's going to be a very close race and there are four or five of us with good pace. Normally it's a circuit where we struggle, but in Mugello normally we struggle and we got second and in Montmelo we struggled and won."

Dovizioso has not recorded an Assen podium since 2014 and knows he has work to do, with team-mate Danilo Petrucci also only managing seventh as he seeks a fourth straight top-three finish.

"It was a strange day, with really high temperatures," said Dovizioso. "Unfortunately we couldn't be as competitive as we were in free practice during qualifying.

"It's a shame because starting from fourth row complicates our plans a bit, but I wasn't able to complete a 'clean' lap - we are more competitive in terms of pace. We still have to improve but we can ride a solid race and won't give up."

Rins is perhaps the man to watch, having typically found qualifying difficult this season before showing excellent race pace. This time, a rare positive Saturday performance has dramatically improved his usual starting position.

"I was feeling quite strong," Rins, a winner in Austin this season, said. "We started Q2 with a used tyre on the rear so when I saw I had done the best lap time at that point I was a bit like, 'Wow'. 

"We have a clear mind. It'll be a hard race, but we will do a good job and I'm starting in a good position. We will fight for the win; we have a good rhythm, though the two Yamahas are really strong."


YAMAHA HUNTING FOR FIRST VICTORY

Honda, Ducati and Suzuki have all tasted victory this season, but Yamaha are gunning for their first win with Quartararo and factory rider Vinales filling the top two grid slots.

"It's just incredible," said in-form rookie Quartararo. "Assen is one of the most legendary circuits - taking pole position and breaking the track record is amazing. 

"I'm very proud of what the team have done. The feeling we have at this circuit, especially on the last sector, is awesome. I think we are good in regard to race pace."

Vinales, who looked quick in Catalunya before being taken out by the crash involving Lorenzo, hopes the fact he is not fighting for the championship will work in his favour, giving him freedom.

"I have nothing to lose, so I'll be pushing 110 per cent," he said. "I'm really satisfied. We worked really hard throughout the whole weekend, especially in FP3, when we worked more for the race than focusing on one lap, so this means we have a good set-up. 

"It's important for Sunday to have a 'normal' and clean race. I will try to be at my best level and get out in front, because it's important for me to ride my own lines. I'm going to start from the front row and fight hard."

Between them, Quartararo and Vinales have topped every session so far in Assen, though a season of frustration continued for Valentino Rossi as he qualified 14th, failing to reach Q2.
 

THE GRID

1. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha)
2. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha)
3. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar)
4. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda)
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar)
6. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
7. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati)
8. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda)
9. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha)
10. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing)
11. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 
12. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
 

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2018: Marc Marquez
2017: Valentino Rossi
2016: Jack Miller (for Honda)
2015: Valentino Rossi


TITLE STANDINGS

Riders

1. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) 140
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 103 (-37)
3. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 101 (-39)
4. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) 98 (-42)
5. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) 72 (-68)

Teams

1. Ducati 201
2. Repsol Honda 159 (-42)
3. Suzuki Ecstar 123 (-78)
4. Monster Energy Yamaha 112 (-89)
5. LCR Honda 90 (-111)


WEATHER FORECAST

Sunny and warm conditions are expected in Assen on Sunday, with moderate winds likely to be something the riders have to contend with.

Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller are "competing" to ride for the factory Ducati team in 2020 ahead of this week's Italian Grand Prix, according to sporting director Pablo Ciabatti.

Sunday's race at the famous circuit in Mugello is typically well suited to the Ducati machines - they have won there in each of the past two years, with the home support now hoping for a third straight success.

One of the emerging storylines of the 2019 season has been the form of Miller and Petrucci, with debate over who will earn next year's seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso.

Australian Miller, who rides for Pramac Racing on the same Desmosedici GP19 as Dovizioso and Petrucci, briefly led the French Grand Prix last time out and has three top-four finishes to his name this season.

But Petrucci notched his first podium of the season at that race in Le Mans, setting up an intriguing battle at a flagship event for Ducati, who say they are likely to make a decision after the next two races. 

"Danilo's podium was very important," Ciabatti told Motorsport.com. "He did exactly what Ducati is asking of him, which is to run in front without doing anything crazy.

"Everybody got nervous after the first three races, but now he's showing his progress. Danilo is under the same pressure as Miller because both have a one-year contract and are competing for the same goal.

"One wants a promotion, the second wants a renewal. We'll have to see how the next two rounds go [in Mugello and Barcelona], then we'll discuss the situation and take a decision."

Petrucci has a close relationship with Dovizioso, who finished second in Le Mans and trails MotoGP championship leader Marc Marquez by eight points.

Alex Marquez, who won the Moto2 race in France and is brother of the Repsol Honda star, has been linked with replacing Miller at Pramac should he move on next season.

Andrea Dovizioso is optimistic ahead of the French Grand Prix, despite having a poor record at the Le Mans circuit.

The Italian has never won the race, but believes his Ducati is likely to fare well at the track, at least in comparison to his fourth-place finish in Jerez last time out that cost him the lead in the riders' championship.

Dovizioso, whose 67 points after four races is his best haul at this stage of a MotoGP season, crashed while leading last year's event in France, which was eventually won by world champion Marc Marquez.

Weather could be a factor with wet conditions expected for Sunday's race, and Dovizioso wants to maximise any chance to challenge Marquez.

"I'm confident that in France we can ride a strong race," he said. 

"At Le Mans we should be more competitive than in the last round in Jerez, at least on paper, even though last year in France the race didn't go as planned and the memory is not the best.

"Weather conditions always play a key role at Le Mans, and it's crucial to be able to manage this variable to your advantage. At any rate, I expect to have many fast rivals out there, so it'll be important to start off on the right foot since the very first session and prepare ourselves as well as possible for the race.

"The Ducati has some characteristics that we can take advantage of in France, but we need to iron out some details to maximise our potential and play our cards right on Sunday, which is when points are given."

Spanish riders have been dominant at Le Mans, winning seven straight races, but Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, who has four podiums in the past five years at the circuit, is another candidate to end that run.

The 40-year-old has highlighted progress made in the acceleration and rear grip on his bike at the recent Jerez test and is bidding for a first win in the French GP since 2008.

Rossi said: "The Jerez test was quite positive. I think we can also try something during the weekend in France. Le Mans is a track that I like a lot, and our Yamaha is usually competitive there.

"The goal is to have a good weekend, work well from FP1 onwards, and be fast from the first day. We had a good race pace last year, so we want to start working from there.

"I'm hoping for good weather to work in throughout the weekend, so we can show our full potential. I want to get back on the podium, and we will do our best with the team."

Marc Marquez was happy with second place at the Qatar Grand Prix despite failing to make his last-corner lunge on Andrea Dovizioso stick.

Marquez and Dovizioso had a thrilling battle at Losail International Circuit on Sunday, with the lead changing hands on numerous occasions.

After the pair had seen off the challenges of Alex Rins and Danilo Petrucci, they began an epic fight for the win on the opening weekend of the season.

Marquez was overtaken by Dovizioso at the start of the final lap but still had a chance to win, his dive down the inside at the final turn not enough to stop the Ducati taking victory.

While disappointed, the Spaniard was pleased with the performance of his Repsol Honda after a mixed pre-season.

"It was exactly like last year," he said. "Exactly the same!

"I tried to push but here in the circuit when you overtake on the dirty place, you just go wide. It was so difficult to keep the line.

"Anyway, I tried, I tried to be there, I tried to push, I tried until the end. But I'm very happy with these 20 points.

"Especially because it's a circuit that we struggle [at]. This weekend we were struggling a lot with the front tyre. If you see, we put the medium, I wasn't able to push like I would like in the brake points.

"But okay, we finished the race with 20 points. One race, that normally we struggle at, less from the calendar."

For Dovizioso it was a welcome start to the campaign, as he looks like to depose three-time defending champion Marquez.

"It was a strange race," said the Italian. "Overall, I'm so happy. 

"I saw Marc struggle a lot with the rear tyre in the last lap, so it was good for me to understand that and I pushed really hard in the last lap.

"But Marc never gives up, he's always there - but I was able to answer because I put him really on the limit."

Andrea Dovizioso claimed a thrilling pole at the Japan Grand Prix as Marc Marquez could only qualify sixth fastest on Saturday. 

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