The pressure was on in the final qualifying session of the year and it was as much about tactics as pure speed as Xavier Artigas took pole in Aragon ahead of Deniz Öncü, Filip Salač and Adrián Carrasco. Just two races in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup remain for 2018 and Can Öncü is relatively relaxed, already Cup Champion, the 15-year-old Turk is just tenth fastest but confident for tomorrow.
His twin brother Deniz ended the session anything but relaxed, fuming like a cauldron about the cat and mouse game that ran through the session with many riders looking for a tow. “It was crazy, if he wants to get pole position he should do it on his own, I wanted to go on my own but always someone was following, if I slowed, they slowed. I could get a penalty because I was slowing but what could I do, it is not my job to give a slipstream to everyone.”
Artigas, the 15-year-old Spaniard set the fastest ever lap of Motorland on a Rookies Cup KTM RC 250 R, almost half a second quicker than Deniz Öncü. “That was a good session, I had not been happy with my bike in Free Practice but the mechanics did a fantastic job and swapped bikes for me, putting my old suspension on the new bike and that was great.”
“I am not sure about tactics for the race, how many laps I can do at that pace, I will think about it,” added Artigas who can still wrest second in the Cup from Deniz Öncü and Filip Salač, who at the moment are tied on points, seven in front of him.
Three to meet again in both races
“The three of us battling for second place, all on the front row,” commented Salač, the 16-year-old Czech. “It will be a very exciting race, I might still change the bike a bit because I am not completely comfortable but it is lot better than in Free Practice, in those sessions I really struggled. Now I still want to improve the bike and I want to fight for the win.”
Also out for the win at his home GP is Spanish 16-year-old Carrasco. “Wow that was a crazy session, I came through the pit lane three times trying to find free space on the track without everyone following. In the end I got the lap I wanted and the bike is perfect, I am going for the win.”
Last minute thunder
Another rider who only got the lap he wanted late in the session was American 16-year-old Sean Kelly. “That was so intense, for me but also for my Mum and Dad. It’s my last Rookies Cup weekend and I know I can do well, I just couldn’t find the right place in the pack to do it. It’s a long straight here and I’m not the smallest guy, I need that slipstream and I only found it with one minute to go. It wasn’t the perfectly clean lap, a clean one would have put me on the front row, but I’m happy, I’m ready to race.”
Starting his rain
Out of the hurley burley, Cup Champion Can Öncü already has the battle won. He had space and fun even if he is back on row four. “The bike wasn’t perfect early on today but the team did a great job with it and I thank everyone for that. I’m happy, I know I can go well, the race is a different thing, we know that from the Red Bull Ring, I’m looking forward to both races.”
This weekend’s Rookies Cup races can be seen live on www.redbull.tv and on TV stations around the world.
Race 1 is at 16:30 CET on Saturday and Race 2 is on Sunday at 15:30, the show starts 10 minutes before the race.
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