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May 28, 2017

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Marquez, Lorenzo struggle, Espargaro sets pace

DOHA -- World champion Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, the two-time winner, gingerly returned to business after surgery on Thursday in the first free practice session for the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix.

Marquez, who became the youngest MotoGP champion in his rookie year in 2013, broke his right leg just six weeks ago in a dirt-bike accident in his native Spain.

Not surprisingly, the 21-year-old opted for a softly-softly approach under the desert floodlights of the Losail circuit, ending the session on his Honda down in 11th place.

"I am fairly happy with how the first session went, because I haven't been on the bike in a while," said Marquez.

"I didn't think my foot would bother me so much — especially on the right hand corners — although at the end of the session I felt better and this gives me hope of improving on Friday."

Lorenzo, who was second in the championship in 2013 despite twice breaking his collarbone which required three surgeries over the winter, was down in ninth spot on his Yamaha.

"I'm a little disappointed because hearing the comments of the riders that were here two weeks ago it seemed the tires were working really well," said Spanish rider Lorenzo.

"Having arrived here it seems the track is a little worse, the feeling of the rear tire is more or less the same as in Sepang, with little grip and traction.

"We didn't have three days to test here like the top five so our problems are bigger. We must hope that the tire gets better and we can improve the grip on the rear."

It was left to Aleix Espargaro on a Yamaha to set the pace in a time of 1 minute 55.201 seconds with Honda rider Alvaro Bautista taking second spot at 0.615 seconds behind while rookie Yamaha Tech3 rider Bradley Smith of Britain was third.

The top five was filled out by Ducati's Andrea Iannone and rookie Pol Espargaro on a Yamaha Tech3. The younger Espargaro brother put in a smooth performance despite breaking his collarbone 10 days ago at the same track.

Dani Pedrosa on a Honda and nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi, the Yamaha teammate of Lorenzo, were sixth and seventh — the best-placed factory riders — while the top ten was completed by Colin Edwards, Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden.

Rossi said the track was a challenge as sand made grip difficult to achieve.

"The track is in quite a bad condition but I think it's quite normal for a first practice," said the charismatic Italian.

"There is a lot of sand and not a lot of rubber down. Also a lot of riders except the factory riders have been here for three days and have done a lot more kilometers and a lot more laps so it's normal they are stronger than us. Now the work for the weekend will be hard to reduce the gap."

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