Pol Espargaro denied Suzuki pole in a tense wet MotoGP European Grand Prix qualifying, with points leader Joan Mir fifth and a poor showing from Petronas SRT.
The Ricardo Tormo Circuit near Valencia was the scene of Espargaro’s and KTM’s first-ever MotoGP podium in 2018 in a wet grand prix, and Espargaro put in another impressive performance at the circuit, 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 team-mate Mir, who posted a 1m41.662s.
Top spot continued to change hands as the track dried 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 Tech3 KTM could only manage eighth having topped Q1 and the wet FP4, with Teruel GP winner Morbidelli a disappointing ninth on his Yamaha.
His team-mate, and second-placed rider in the standings, Fabio Quartararo 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 that 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 team-mate Alex Marquez.
Maverick Vinales was 15th fastest in qualifying on his Yamaha, having crashed in FP4, but will start Sunday’s race from the pitlane for exceeding his engine allocation for the season this weekend and fitting a sixth motor.
This will promote all of the riders 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.
European MotoGP starting grid
|3||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda||0.096s|
|4||Johann Zarco||Avintia Ducati||0.143s|
|6||Jack Miller||Pramac Ducati||0.459s|
|8||Miguel Oliveira||Tech3 KTM||0.894s|
|9||Franco Morbidelli||Petronas Yamaha||1.123s|
|11||Fabio Quartararo||Petronas Yamaha||1.509s|
|15||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||0.877s|
|16||Francesco Bagnaia||Pramac Ducati||0.961s|
|20||Tito Rabat||Avintia Ducati||2.596s|