Rins second, Mir fifth, Morbidelli ninth, Quartararo 11th, Dovizioso 12th and Viñales in pitlane sets us up for a rollercoaster race day
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro picked up a phenomenal second pole position of 2020 after mastering the wet conditions in Q2 at the Gran Premio de Europa, the Spaniard slamming in a late 1:40.434 to head a front row covered by less than a tenth. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) starts second as the top title challenger, just 0.041 back, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claiming the final front row slot despite a late crash. The grid is a fascinating one ahead of lights out, with Championship challengers scattered throughout and, of course, Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) also starting from pitlane due to exceeding his engine allocation.
First, FP4 pacesetter Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and FP3 leader Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) emerged through the Q1 shootout on top in wet but drying conditions. The sun was shining for Q2 but the asphalt still wet; a dry line appearing but nowhere near dry enough to risk slicks. High stakes, anyone?
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) pulled straight back into pitlane after his out lap, a tyre change on for the Italian, but it wasn’t to slicks. Rins then set a 1:42.420 and the first time of the session, but that was going to be beaten fairly quickly as some of the Q1 contenders dipped into the 1:41s, already dialled in. The number 42 Suzuki did then set a 1:41.714 to extend his lead though, and teammate Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was next up as he went quicker by a tenth to sit on provisional pole.
The Suzuki stranglehold was then beaten by Nakagami as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) peeled into the pitlane despite being on a great lap, but the lead then changed again. Morbidelli was back on top, but Rins was on a roll and topped the session for the third lap in a row; the Aragon GP winner in fine form.
Nakagami was then on another flyer. The Japanese rider was 0.3 seconds faster at the second split and over half a second up through Sector 3, coming round the final corner and firing his RC213V to the line to take over by seven tenths – goalposts well and truly moved. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was the first man trying to respond, the Australian straight down to business to take P2 despite waiting to head out, but a mistake at the final corner cost him time.
Meanwhile, Mir then improved his time to go P3 as Dovizioso’s next time was only good enough for P12 as the wet weather form book seemed to take a hit. There was time left yet though and Rins was through the third split 0.041 up, the number 42 just pipping Nakagami by 0.005 seconds over the line. The Japanese rider then crashed at the final corner though, so that was his session over…
In the end, it all came down to a tense final minute. Rins was once again going faster and faster, 0.079 seconds under and looking set to challenge, but there was a flying KTM about to join the party at the top: Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard, who picked up both his and KTM’s first MotoGP™ podium at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in 2018, crossed the line to take provisional pole and show yet more wet weather mastery. Could Rins ruin KTM’s afternoon? Not quite – but it was close. 0.041 was the gap between the two and next attention turned to Zarco, because the Frenchman was flying.
0.196 up through Sector 3 looked like it might be the two-time Moto2™ World Champion’s time to shine, but a mistake at the final corner then saw the Ducati man lose time. Just enough, although it was only covered by a tenth, to lose out on the front row. The number 5 went fourth, and it all came down to Rins. Could the Suzuki rider make one last ditch attempt to snatch pole? Not quite. It was another good lap but the Spaniard had to settle for P2, the search for premier class pole continuing.
And so, another breathless wet qualifying session ends with Pol Espargaro and KTM on top. The number 44 earns his second pole position of the season as Rins claims his second consecutive front row, and that can also be said for Nakagami. Three manufacturers in the top three positions, and all three are looking strong in Valencia. Two could also become the ninth different winner of 2020 on Sunday…
So could Zarco, who was unlucky to miss out on the front row but after negotiating Q1, heading up the second row is a solid Saturday afternoon. Championship leader Mir will launch from P5 after some good work on home soil, and he’s another big candidate to become that ninth winner. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completes Row 2 and that’s the Aprilia rider’s best Saturday afternoon outing since his P4 at the Czech GP earlier this year, and Aprilia’s best at Valencia in the MotoGP™ era.
After showing strong pace all weekend, Miller was forced to settle for P7 and the head of the third row, ahead of Oliveira. The Portuguese rider was the last man within a second of Pol Espargaro after improving on his last lap. Next up is top Yamaha rider Morbidelli in ninth and the Italian has some work to do on Sunday afternoon, with Mir and Rins ahead of him. Crucially, however, there are three title contenders behind him…
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) rounds out the top 10, the South African just over a tenth faster than one of said title challengers: 11th place Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT). It wasn’t the ideal Saturday for the man second in the standings but thankfully for El Diablo, Sunday looks like it will be dry – he’ll likely be hoping so. Dovizioso’s Q2 didn’t go to plan either, the Italian well adrift of Pol Espargaro by the flag and set to start P12.
And then, in terms of the top six in the standings, there’s Viñales. The Spaniard will start from pitlane on Sunday, looking to do some damage limitation. His returning teammate Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) starts from P17 too… so what can they each do?
The scene is set with a grid that promises another truly stunning Sunday. Will it be a ninth winner? More Championship drama? Another maiden winner? Some history-making is entirely possible, with Pol Espargaro, Nakagami, Zarco and Mir all starting in the top five and on the verge of some serious stats. Tune in for the MotoGP™ race at 14:00 local time (GMT+1) on Sunday for another unmissable twist in the tale of 2020!
MotoGP™ front row
1 Pol Espargaro – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing – KTM – 1:40.434
2 Alex Rins – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – +0.041
3 Takaaki Nakagami* – LCR Honda Idemitsu – Honda – +0.096
*Independent Team rider
Pol Espargaro: “That qualifying was crazy, we have not so much to lose, we’re not fighting for so much in the Championship. We’re not far but not close enough which is a pity but a reality. Today was difficult because we have three races in a row and these conditions made it so so so difficult to make a good laptime and so easy to crash, so I wanted to finish that session and with a good result, especially after seeing Miguel in Q1 who was very fast. I’m super pleased, I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the line and my mechanic put P1 on the board, it’s difficult to believe because when it comes in difficult situations it’s even more tasty!”
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