The Leopard rider just pips Arenas to the top, with McPhee third and drama for Ogura as the points leader crashes out without setting a lap.
Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) put in a stunner to snatch pole from Championship challenger Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) at the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, the number 5 judging it to perfection to edge just 0.020 clear at the top. The two riders were ultimately in a class of their own in the final few seconds of Q2, with John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) taking an important P3 and front row but the Scot left a few tenths in arrears on the timesheets. For Championship leader Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) it was a different story, the number 79 crashing without a lap on the board and left facing a big fight back on Sunday.
At a slightly warmer and certainly sunnier Le Mans, it was Kaito Toba (Red Bull KTM Ajo) topped Q1, heading through to contest the top 18 grid positions alongside Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing), Ryusei Yamanaka (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3). Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was the man who just lost out, the Italian crashing right at the end and unable to improve. Rodrigo also went down, but the Argentinean had already done enough to move through.
With that, the stage was set and as Q2 got underway, it was Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) who held the reins after the first runs, the Spaniard ahead of winner last time out, Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power). Toba crashed early on, the Japanese rider able to make it back to the garage at least, but soon enough the grid headed into the calm before the storm – the classic mid-session lull. Sky Racing Team VR46 riders Celestino Vietti and Andrea Migno were hard at work doing some formation running, however, and they improved, as did Foggia as the Leopard man also stayed out.
With just under five minutes to go, only 11 laptimes were on the board, with many choosing to wait it out. But then some started disappearing, laps cancelled for a few riders and that upping the ante even more. Fernandez remained top as the field filtered out for a final push though – and then some big drama happened.
After only just automatically making it through to Q2, disaster then struck for Championship leader Ogura. Without a lap even set for the Japanese rider, he crashed out and watched his hopes of a solid start position for the French GP evaporate. Rider ok, but in worse news, forced to watch the remainder of the session from the sidelines, unable to get back out.
Meanwhile at the top, Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) was first to depose Fernandez, but the Spaniard remained on his roll and soon hit back. Masia was on an absolute charge late on, however, the Leopard Racing rider with a full house of red sectors on the timing screens and out the final corner and over the line, the lap was more than enough to take over on provisional pole – with a few seconds left on the clock and therefore chance for one more lap to boot…
Fenati couldn’t hit back as he completed his final effort, and neither could Fernandez as the two early duellers were forced to concede defeat. But Arenas was on a flier, and as he crossed the line red sectors became provisional pole as the Spaniard tried to put himself in the strongest possible position to try and take back the Championship lead on Sunday. Masia still wasn’t done though, and those few seconds he’d had left to start another lap would prove crucial as the number 5 put in another stunner, back on top and taking his first pole position of the season in some style – by just 0.020.
Arenas will be satisfied with a front row – and some serious speed – as he looks to take the lead back from Ogura on Sunday, although the Spaniard has got a different key rival right next to him: McPhee. The Scot left it late but pulled a fast one out the bad to complete the front row, just over four tenths off Masia but one who, like Arenas, has already enjoyed a trip to the top step at Le Mans.
Raul Fernandez heads the second row, ahead of Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) as his solid form of late continues in France, with Rodrigo ultimately bouncing back from a trip to Q1 and a crash to line up in a solid sixth. Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) had a slightly under the radar Saturday afternoon but heads Row 3, just 0.015 off Rodrigo, as he aims to continue his march upwards in the standings. Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) was eighth quickest and with another tiny deficit as the Japanese rider missed out by only 0.020, with Romano Fenati next up but a larger 0.208 off the number 71. Vietti ended up relegated to tenth, 0.173 off compatriot Fenati.
Foggia, Binder, Migno, Stefano Nepa (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3), Carlos Tatay (Reale Avintia Moto3) and Toba complete the top 16 as the last riders who set valid laps. Yamanaka crashed, with Migno collected in that incident, and he’ll start P18.
Ogura will start 17th and after his disastrous session the Championship leader is faced with an almighty fight back if he’s to keep Arenas – and McPhee – at bay. Can he do it? We’ll find out at the slightly later time of 11:20 (GMT +2) on Sunday in what is sure to be another stunning Moto3™ race.
Jaume Masia: “I’m really happy with this pole position. Qualifying was a little bit difficult because I was coming with three laps to go with a really good lap and I saw one crash. Lots of yellow flags and I was scared of not finishing the lap because of the yellow flags but, yeah, the feeling was good, we worked really hard this weekend, always on top and it’s good to start from the front row.”
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