Starting from pole position with the fastest time among the fastest riders in the world is certainly a psychological edge, but pole position doesn’t guarantee the winner of a MotoGP race, largely because the span of time separating P1 from P6 is less than a second. If starting from pole position were indicative of a race’s outcome, Valentino Rossi’s win record would nearly be halved because he has almost double the amount of MotoGP/500cc race wins as he does MotoGP/500cc pole positions.
Statistically, pole-position records are interesting because they show who among the famous racers were actually fastest. Take for instance Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey. In the early ’90s Schwantz and Rainey went at each other tooth and nail, and while Rainey won three 500cc championship titles to Schwantz’s one, Schwantz – who hasn’t raced in the series for more than two decades – is among the top-10 pole-position record holders, whereas Rainey is not. Schwantz was fast, Rainey was consistent. Fast wins pole positions; consistency wins championships.
Barry Sheene will forever be tied with Wayne Gardner with 19 pole positions each, but Sheene got to that number first, and so is awarded with top billing. Similar to Rainey vs. Schwantz, Sheene owns one more pole position than arch-nemesis Kenny Roberts, but Roberts has three 500cc world titles compared to Sheene’s two championships.
Max Biaggi is the Italian version of Randy Mamola; always a bridesmaid but never a bride. A phenom in the 250cc class with four world titles and the 250cc class leader with 33 pole positions, Biaggi never cracked the MotoGP/500cc title nut. His 23 premier-class pole positions are enough to rank him 9th on this list. To his credit, Biaggi was able to snag two World Superbike titles following his GP career.
Freddie Spencer’s claim to fame is winning both the 250cc and 500cc titles in 1985, the first and only rider to do so in the modern Grand Prix era. Spencer won a previous 500cc title in 1983, while throughout his illustrious, albeit short, Grand Prix career earned 27 pole positions. That’s more than compatriot “Steady” Eddie Lawson, with only 18 pole positions, but Lawson ended his career with four 500cc world titles.
Nice hat, Dani. Can you guess which GP race this picture was taken? Already owning 29 MotoGP pole positions, and with the rest of this season still to go and contracted with Repsol Honda for another, Pedrosa stands a very good chance of climbing further up this list. Conversely, Pedrosa only scored 9 pole positions in the 250cc class, but yet owns two 250cc world titles. Kind of the Spanish version of Max Biaggi.
To paraphrase Wayne Rainey in regards to Kevin Schwantz’s 500cc riding style, he said, Schwantz was a real cowboy on that thing. And he was. Bending the Suzuki RGV500 to his will Schwantz always guaranteed a good show, although he oftentimes binned it or winned it. Want to see how it was before the advent of traction control and other electronics, check out some vintage footage of Schwantz in the early ’90s.
Had Lorenzo stayed with Yamaha he’d most likely have already padded his MotoGP pole-position number. If the first few races of the 2017 season with Ducati are an indication of things to come, he’ll be stuck at 5th place on this list through the 2017 season. Depending on the development of the Ducati from there, maybe Lorenzo will get back to his pole-positioning ways.
With Lorenzo’s current performance glut, he and Casey Stoner may well be tied at 39 pole positions each for the foreseeable future, even though Stoner hasn’t competed in MotoGP for a few years and Lorenzo is still currently riding. Like other retired racers such as Sheene and Spencer, Stoner’s name will remain somewhere in the top-10 pole-position holders for years to come.
In only his fifth season in the premier class, Marc Marquez has managed to accumulate enough pole positions to already put him third on this list, and he’ll certainly surpass 39, maybe as soon as this weekend at Mugello. At his current trajectory of 9.5 pole positions on average per year, Marquez will top this list prior to retiring from MotoGP racing.
Valentino Rossi may be second on this list with 54 pole positions, but when averaged over a 17-year career that’s only about three pole positions per year, or about six shy of Marquez’s annual pole position average. Vale will presumably score a few more before retiring, but if he does pass the number-one guy, it’ll most likely be short lived before Marquez surpasses him.
Mick Doohan seems to be the exception to the rule. Consistent enough to win five consecutive 500cc world titles, yet also fast enough to be the king of premier-class pole positions, all within an 11-year career in which he sat out the majority of the 1992 season. With only four to go to tie and five to surpass, Rossi has a chance of topping the category, but, as mentioned previously, Marquez will more than likely own this statistic before it’s all said and done.