- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

PHILIP ISLAND, Australia (AP) - Newly crowned world champion Marc Marquez will start in pole position in Sunday’s Australian Moto GP after brilliantly reading rainy conditions during qualifying on the Philip Island circuit.

Marquez arrived in Australia after winning last weekend’s Japan round of the series to tie up the title with three rounds remaining. At 23, the Spaniard is the youngest rider to win the world title three times, surpassing Britain’s Mike Hailwood.

Marquez chose the perfect moment to return to the circuit on slick tires Saturday to qualify seven tenths of a second faster than fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow.

Pol Espargaro, who qualified almost a full second further back on a Yamaha, will complete the front row.

“This weekend has been really tricky with the weather conditions,” Marquez said. “You need to be fast, of course, but you need to have the correct strategy, too.

“At the moment we’re going out at the correct time with the correct tires every time and we were able to be on pole position.

“It was difficult to find the perfect lap but we did.”

Saturday’s changeable weather conditions claimed a number of victims, including Italy’s Valentino Rossi who will start in 15th place in his worst qualifying performance since 2011.

Friday’s practice rounds were almost entirely lost to rain, forcing a packed schedule on Saturday which was further affected by unpredictable conditions. The track began to dry late in the first qualifying session and was dry at the start of second qualifying, though further rain was predicted.

Many riders headed out on intermediates but Marquez was among the first to switch to slicks and his gamble paid off as he opened a 1.5 second lead before the remainder of the grid began to peg him back.

Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro had a strong second qualifying session to challenge for the front row but was just beaten over the line by his brother Pol and will start in fourth place.

Australia’s Jack Miller finished fifth for his best-ever qualifying result.

Nicky Hayden, riding in place of injured Dani Pedrosa, took seventh place on his return to MotoGP, ahead of Stefan Bradl who will be his teammate in 2017 on the Honda World Superbike Team.

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