Pol Espargaro took an historic maiden pole for Red Bull KTM in the second visit to the Austrian track.
Espargaro claimed the first pole position for the Austrian outfit at the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria after a ferocious Q2 session saw the Spaniard joined on the front row by Taka Nakagami who claimed his first front row start in the premier in second position and Johann Zarco in third. Zarco fought valiantly through the pain of his recent wrist surgery to move up from Q1 to Q2 however, due to the horrendous clash with Franco Morbidelli which saw last week’s AustrianGP red flagged, Zarco will be starting from the pitlane.
In true MotoGP form, Q1 was a royal rumble for the top two places. Valentino Rossi looked on course to be joining the Q2 session with three minutes of the session remaining as he topped the timings before being ousted from top of the timings by Brno winner Brad Binder. Rossi came fighting back to improve his lap time but a crash at turn nine saw the veteran Italian rider fail to improve his time allowing Iker Lecuona to swoop in and top the times. Unfortunately for the Spanish rookie, it wasn’t long before both he and Binder were pushed out of the lucrative spots as Zarco and Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci rocketed to the top of the timings and earned their spots in Q2.
Q2 got off to a sedate start with riders as riders got a feel for the circuit’s afternoon conditions but once they were happy, it was time for action. Fabio Quartararo was the first to drop into the 1:23s and have pole position in his sights but it wasn’t long before he was knocked off the top spot by Espargaro, taking two tenths off Quartararo’s time. Taka Nakagami wasn’t going to allow them to have all the fun, slicing 0.043 off Espargararo’s time to take provisional pole.
With only a minute to go, Quartararo’s front row start slipped from his grasp as the Frenchman dropped from first to sevenths as Zarco once again regained a front row position. Maverick Viñales attempted to claw his way up the timings after finding himself wallowing down in tenth but, with a charging Espargaro blistering through, the Spaniard had to settle for sixth after losing time.
It looked as if the hills were going to sing with joy for the KTM outfit but Nakagami was on flying lap. Unfortunately for the Japanese rider, his final lap time was cancelled due to exceeding track limits, gifting the pole position to Espargararo in KTM’s backyard. Nakagami lines up alongside the Spaniard and will be looking for his maiden victory in the premier class after such a strong performance all weekend. Due to Zarco’s penalty, the Frenchman will start Sunday’s race from pitlane whilst Suzuki’s Joan Mir, who qualified in a career best fourth,is promoted to the front row.
Despite a crash in Free Practice 3 which saw him injury his shoulder and put the remaining weekend in doubt, Jack Miller snagged fifth position ahead of his good friend Viñales in sixth. Alex Rins qualified in seventh position with Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider Miguel Oliveira for company in eighth, AustrianGP winner Andrea Dovizioso in ninth and Quartararo in tenth.
After last weekend’s heart-in-mouth action, the grid will be hoping for a slightly less eventful Sunday but can Nakagami claim his first victory from the hungry Espargaro or will Quartararo and Dovizioso throw a spanner in the works?
Full results here.