European MotoGP: Espargaro puts KTM on pole in wet qualifying

Pol Espargaro denied Suzuki pole in a tense wet European Grand Prix qualifying, with MotoGP points leader Joan Mir fifth and a poor showing from Petronas SRT.

The Ricardo Tormo Circuit near Valencia, which was the scene of Pol Espargaro’s and KTM’s first-ever MotoGP podium in 2018 in a wet grand prix, saw Espargaro edging Alex Rins by 0.041 seconds in qualifying for the first European GP since 1995.

Rins set the early pace on the Suzuki with a 1m41.714s, though was soon usurped by teammate Mir, who posted a 1m41.662s.

Top spot continued to change hands as the track continued to dry out, though not enough for a switch to slicks.

Franco Morbidelli on the SRT Yamaha, LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami and Rins all traded provisional pole in the first runs in Q2, with the Suzuki prevailing with a 1m41.254s.

With just under six minutes to go, Nakagami guided his year-old LCR Honda to a 1m40.530s to go seven tenths clear of the field at that point – though his charge was halted with a crash at the last corner in the closing moments.

At the same time as the Japanese rider’s crash, Rins edged ahead with a 1m40.525s to return to top spot and set up Suzuki’s first pole since Catalunya 2015.

But KTM’s Espargaro lit up the timing screens on his final effort and produced a 1m40.434s to claim his second pole of the season.

Rins will start alongside as the leading member of the top six title contenders, with Nakagami holding onto the front row in third despite his crash.

Johann Zarco heads row two on his Avintia Ducati having come through Q1 ahead of Mir and Pramac’s Jack Miller, while Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia qualified seventh.

Q1 pacesetter Miguel Oliveira on the Tech 3 KTM could only manage eighth having topped Q1 and the wet FP4, with Teruel GP winner Morbidelli a disappointing ninth on his Yamaha.

His teammate and second-placed rider in the championship Fabio Quartararo has struggled all weekend in the wet conditions and ended up 1.5s off the pace in 11th behind KTM’s Brad Binder and the works Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso.

Dovizioso bizarrely aborted a lap which was set to put him at the top of the timesheets at the start of the session and never recovered.

Binder will have to serve a long lap penalty in Sunday’s race as punishment for his lap one collision with Miller last time out at Aragon.

A late improvement for Zarco in Q1 dropped Honda’s Stefan Bradl out of the Q2 places, with a crash at Turn 1 resigning him to 13th ahead of teammate Alex Marquez.

Maverick Vinales was 15th fastest in qualifying on his Yamaha having crashed in FP4, but will start Sunday’s race from pitlane for exceeding his engine allocation for the season this weekend and fitting a sixth motor.

This will promote all who qualified behind him up a spot, with LCR’s Cal Crutchlow now starting 16th ahead of Pramac’s Francesco Bagnaia and the returning Valentino Rossi, who missed all of Friday’s running as he awaited the results of a COVID-19 test.

Danilo Petrucci was a perplexing 19th in the session having dominated the wet French GP last month, with the Ducati rider only bettering Aprilia debutant Lorenzo Savadori and outgoing Avintia rider Tito Rabat.

Q2 results:

Cla Rider Bike Time Gap
1 Spain Pol Espargaro KTM 1'40.434  
2 Spain Alex Rins Suzuki 1'40.475 0.041
3 Japan Takaaki Nakagami Honda 1'40.530 0.096
4 France Johann Zarco Ducati 1'40.577 0.143
5 Spain Joan Mir Suzuki 1'40.704 0.270
6 Australia Jack Miller Ducati 1'40.893 0.459
7 Spain Aleix Espargaro Aprilia 1'40.997 0.563
8 Portugal Miguel Oliveira KTM 1'41.328 0.894
9 Italy Franco Morbidelli Yamaha 1'41.557 1.123
10 South Africa Brad Binder KTM 1'41.781 1.347
11 France Fabio Quartararo Yamaha 1'41.943 1.509
12 Italy Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 1'42.249 1.815

Q1 results:

Cla Rider Bike Time Gap
1 Portugal Miguel Oliveira KTM 1'40.771  
2 France Johann Zarco Ducati 1'40.821 0.050
3 Germany Stefan Bradl Honda 1'41.010 0.239
4 Spain Alex Marquez Honda 1'41.276 0.505
5 Spain Maverick Viñales Yamaha 1'41.310 0.539
6 United Kingdom Cal Crutchlow Honda 1'41.311 0.540
7 Italy Francesco Bagnaia Ducati 1'41.395 0.624
8 Italy Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1'42.039 1.268
9 Italy Danilo Petrucci Ducati 1'42.244 1.473
10 Italy Lorenzo Savadori Aprilia 1'42.532 1.761
11 Spain Tito Rabat Ducati 1'43.030 2.259
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