July 20 (Reuters) - Germany’s Stefan Bradl stole the pole for the U.S. Grand Prix from MotoGP championship leader Marc Marquez on Saturday after the Spaniard crashed late in qualifying on the tricky Laguna Seca circuit.
Factory Honda rider Marquez, who had dominated practice sessions at the Mazda Speedway, had been poised to take the position but slid off the track with just four minutes remaining.
The mistake opened the door for Bradl, who turned in a blistering lap of one minute 21.176 seconds on his non-works LCR Honda to bump Marquez and claim his first career MotoGP pole in his second season in the top category.
“It’s incredible,” said the 23-year-old. “I didn’t expect pole position because the guys are able to step up and go faster in qualifying.”
Marquez, who will be racing for the first time at Laguna Seca, watched helplessly from the pits as the final seconds in the session ticked off the clock but the rookie managed to hold onto second spot on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Spain’s Alvaro Bautista staged a late charge to take third for Gresini Honda ahead of seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi of Italy on a Yamaha.
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow posted the fifth fastest time for Tech3 Yamaha ahead of a pair of Spaniards, reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa,
The two Spanish title contenders were both back in action after sitting out last weekend’s German Grand Prix with collarbone injuries. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Alan Baldwin)