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Espargaro tops Qatar timesheets

Aleix Espargaro topped the timesheets in the third practice session for Sunday's Grand Prix of Qatar.

Espargaro has headed the order in all three practice sessions at the first race of 2014, his NGM Forward Racing Yamaha proving a revelation around the desert-based Losail circuit.

A best time of one minute 54.773 seconds put Espargaro almost half a second ahead of Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing) and Alvaro Bautista (Honda Gresini) in second and third respectively.

The Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso was fourth with the factory Honda of reigning champion Marc Marquez in fifth.

Britain's Bradley Smith suffered a big highside on his Tech 3 Yamaha at turn five but was able to walk away gingerly from the accident before going on to register the sixth best time.

"I am happy with today's performance and I feel that I am close to where I want and need to be," said Smith.

"It was unfortunate to have the highside, especially as we were trying a new setting with the bike at that time. I know I am very lucky to be walking away without any injury from such a big crash and am thankful that I wasn't hurt."

Former champion Jorge Lorenzo was continuing to struggle for grip on the factory Yamaha and just squeezed into the top 10 late on, posting a lap good enough for seventh place.

"We had the same feeling today with little grip on the rear with the soft tyre," said Lorenzo. "We tried to adapt to the situation and the positive thing is that we are closer to the faster riders with race pace, maybe three or four tenths instead of one second so let's see if tomorrow we can improve a bit more."

Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) were eighth and ninth, with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) rounding out the top 10.