Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Zarco takes a stunning pole position to lead French 1-2 in Czechia

Aug 09. 2020
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By THE NATION

Zarco shines, Quartararo crashes and Dovizioso suffers his worst ever premier class qualifying on a dramatic Saturday in Brno

Many expected Brno may bring a shake up, but few could have expected the stunning and unpredictable qualifying sessions at the Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky. It's Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) who will start from pole as the Frenchman pulled an incredible three tenths clear in Q2, with Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) crashing out on his final lap and forced to settle for second. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) completes the front row just eight thousandths off his teammate, with some serious headlines further down the field too...

2018 winner and last year's second place finisher, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) starts 18th after his worst ever premier class qualifying. KTM are the only factory team with both riders on the first three rows. Repsol Honda are the two last bikes on the grid with Stefan Bradl and Alex Marquez. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) didn't make it out of Q1. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) makes it another Independent Team 1-2-3-4, as it was on Friday, as he equalled Aprilia's best qualifying in MotoGP™...

It began in Q1 as we saw a host of big names from the front in Jerez fighting it out to even move through, setting the scene for the next shake up of the day. There was some late drama on the timing screens too as on the last lap for many, it looked like it would be a one shot wonder from Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) sending him through first, to be closely followed by Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu)… but then the Japanese rider’s lap disappeared. Cancelled for exceeding track limits at Turn 12, that left him out the graduation zone and boosted Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) into second. No one could better the South African’s effort, and he moved through alongside Rins. Leaving Dovizioso, Miller, Nakagami and Friday's third fastest man, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), out the fight for the top 12.

Come Q2, it was was Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) who crossed the line first with a 1:56.6, with teammate Valentino Rossi pretty much matching the Spaniard’s time to slot into P2, pipping Morbidelli. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro then blitzed the lot of them to go provisional P1 with a 1:56.1 as the Austrian factory continued to shine, but the KTM wouldn’t stay at the summit long as Quartararo hit next to set the first 1:55 of the weekend – a 1:55.990. He didn't know it at the time, but that would remain his quickest effort.

Aleix Espargaro was giving the Championship leader some attention too, and the Spaniard had Quartararo a couple of bike lengths ahead, made the most of it and improved despite the Frenchman not quite managing to do so. Viñales then took a provisional front row before Rins went P6 on his opening fast lap, but a gaggle of riders were all setting red first sector times just ahead of the Suzuki. Morbidelli, Rossi, Binder and Zarco were all in close proximity, with the latter going faster than everyone. Halfway round, Morbidelli – spearheading the group – was under his teammates’ time by two tenths, but it was the Frenchman at the back of the group who had a stunning three tenths in his pocket. Would he hold onto it?

He would. Zarco flew to the top of the pile for an incredible provisional pole position, with Pol Espargaro going P2 with a stunning lap for the Spaniard as well. The number 44's joy was shorter lived, however, as the KTM rider had set it when passing yellow flags for a crash for Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) at Turn 9. There was one man left to try and overcome Zarco's incredible laptime, with Quartararo the last man over the line for his final push and only seconds to spare.

The number 20 was on a personal best lap but still down on Zarco by over a tenth half way round, needing to find something in the final quarter of the lap. He pushed and kept pushing but this time too far, sliding into the gravel at Turn 13 and kissing goodbye to a fifth pole in a row - rider ok and Zarco left to his stunning pole position for the Czech GP.

'El Diablo' is still starting second ahead of Morbidelli, with Aleix Espargaro heading up Row 2. Maverick Viñales is fifth and the first factory rider on the grid, with Pol Espargaro taking P6 and a second row start despite the heartbreak of seeing his earlier, faster lap cancelled.

Brad Binder impressed as ever with a P7 in Q2, the South African ensuring KTM are the only factory with both factory team riders on the first three rows. The rookie is joined on that third row by Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), a direct entrant to Q2, and a quiet but solid day's work from Team Suzuki Ecstar's Joan Mir in P9.

Rossi completes the top ten and lost out to Mir by only 0.003, although 'The Doctor' got the better of Alex Rins by half a tenth as the number 42 Suzuki took eleventh. Crutchlow, despite his heroics to move through on Saturday, was left in P12 after his crash. Oliveira, Miller and Rabat complete the fastest fifteen.

That's it from a shaken, stirred and stunning Saturday of action at Brno. Can Dovizioso and Miller make their way through the field? What can Zarco do on Sunday? Will Quartararo make it three-in-a-row? With less race day drama, what can KTM achieve? And who has the race pace to go the distance?  Find out on Sunday at 14:00 (GMT +2) as the premier class go racing at the Automotodrom Brno.

MotoGP™ front row 

Johann Zarco* Esponsorama Racing - Ducati - 1:55.687

Fabio Quartararo* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - +0.303

Franco Morbidelli* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - +0.311

*Independent Team riders

Johann Zarco: "I still cannot believe that I'm on pole and I did it, it's just fantastic. I  was feeling good on Friday and Saturday on the new tyre, I was able to do a pretty fast first lap and that was already positive to go straight to Q2. Because I'm on the way back, learning many things. I need to improve because the others improved a lot in the last two years. But in qualifying, on the first tyre I wasn't that fast and I was a bit worried because it was warm, sliding more than the morning, but I was keeping calm. I was following a group in front of me and that way I could control my lap. And then I w s surprised at this super good laptime. So let's take the good from now and see tomorrow with a good start if we can stay with the top guys at the beginning, this will be really important to have a good race."

MotoGP™ front row L-R: Quartararo, Zarco and Morbidelli
 
Roberts strikes back for pole in Brno
The American edges out Lowes to take his second pole of the season, with Bastianini completing the front row

Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) repeated his Qatar GP qualifying heroics to earn a magnificent second Moto2™ pole position of 2020 in the Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky. After a tough couple of races in Jerez, the American was able to edge out Free Practice pacesetter Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), with Andalucia GP winner Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) completing the front row in P3.

Roberts set his 2:01.692 and fastest effort on his third flying lap in Q2 to displace Bastianini from provisional pole, with almost the entirety of Q2 setting their best times on their first two laps as they scrambled for position. Lowes and teammate Augusto Fernandez took their time to get their first laps of qualifying in, but when they did, Lowes went straight to P2 behind Roberts, Fernandez into P8.

The gap between the top two sat at just over a tenth but with track conditions not getting any better, the riders – including Lowes – were struggling to find any personal best times. And sure enough, no one was able to trouble the pole time as Roberts' stunning return to form secures him a second pole of the season. Lowes' incredible pace all weekend rewards him with a second place start and a third consecutive front row, with Bastianini continuing the form that ultimately propelled him to victory in  the Andalucia GP.

Fourth place went the way of Hafizh Syahrin (Openbank Aspar Team) and the Malaysian will launch his best grid slot of 2020, aiming to hold off Andalucia GP podium finisher Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) in P5. Jorge Martin was the sole Red Bull KTM Ajo rider in Q2 after Championship leader Tetsuta Nagashima failed to make it through Q1, and the Spaniard will be starting P6 as he aims to close the gap to his teammate in the title scrap.

Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) equals his best Saturday afternoon result of the season with a P7 finish, the German ending the session just 0.020 ahead of Fernandez. Q1’s fastest man Fabio Di Giannantonio (MB Conveyors Speed Up), who took his first intermediate class podium at Brno last year, completes Row 9 – his best qualifying of the year so far. Rounding out the top 10 is the man lying second in the Championship, Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). Eight-tenths off Roberts’ time isn’t where the Italian would have wanted to be, and he’s got work on his hands with Bastianini starting on the front row if the two are to duel it out for the win.

Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up), Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Forward Racing), Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and rookie Aron Canet (Openbank Aspar Team) complete the top fifteen.

What will Sunday bring? Championship leader Nagashima had a tough day at the office and the Japanese rider will be launching from P21, so there's an open door for many - but an incredibly competitive field to fight it out with. Tune in for the Moto2™ race at 12:20 local time (GMT+2) at the Czech GP.

Moto2™ front row

Joe Roberts Tennor American Racing Kalex - 2:01.692  

Sam Lowes EG 0,0 Marc VDS - Kalex +0.130

Enea Bastianini - Italtrans Racing Team - Kalex - +0.189

Joe Roberts: "To know the speed is still there is amazing. It was quite difficult for me in Jerez to understand, we had four months off and then with these conditions no one has been in before.. it as difficult for the team to find the feeling I wanted, I felt like I hit a wall each session. But coming here I've always had something special happen here, on my debut in Moto2 I got tenth... it's been a track I've been looking forward to. We put the bike back to Qatar, exactly the same, we even have hashhtag - #JustLikeQatar! I'm surprised about pole position, I felt strong all weekend but I hadn't led a session and my one lap pace with the new tyre wasn't amazing or exactly how I wanted it, but the guys made a new setting for qualifying anticipating different conditions and the laptime came easy to be honest, I felt really confident and really comfortable!"

Moto2™ front row L-R: Lowes. Roberts, Bastianini
 
Fernandez takes maiden pole in chaotic Moto3™ qualifying
The Spaniard made the most of a dramatic session as many missed out on a second flying lap

Red Bull KTM Ajo's Raul Fernandez was the main man to benefit from some Moto3™ drama at the Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky as the Spaniard's only flying lap of the session proved good enough to clinch a debut pole position, as many others missed their chance. Fast all weekend and all season, he'll now head the grid for the first time, joined on the front row by Kömmerling Gresini Moto3's Gabriel Rodrigo and SIC58 Squadra Corse's Tatsuki Suzuki, who lost his perfect pole record in 2020 on Saturday.

The 15-minute Q2 session ended in bizarre circumstances as the field tried to wait it out in pitlane, leaving themselves only two minutes on the clock - and no chance of putting in a final flying lap. That left Fernandez unthreatened at the top, and the grid almost set.

After a crash out of contention in the Andalucia GP, Honda Team Asia's Ai Ogura bounces back to head up the second row of the grid, joined by Leopard Racing's Dennis Foggia and Kömmerling Gresini Moto3's Jeremy Alcoba. The top six riders were separated by just half a second, but World Championship leader Albert Arenas' (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) frustration was clear at missing a final shot at pole position. He starts seventh instead.

Having ended Q1 fastest, Rivacold Snipers Team's Tony Arbolino bagged eighth, just ahead of compatriot Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team). Rookie Yuki Kunii (Honda Team Asia) enjoyed his best qualifying of his young career by taking an impressive tenth, joined on row four by Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse).

Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing), Stefano Nepa (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) and Darryn Binder (CIP - Green Power) locked out the fastest fifteen.

Where's John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing)? The Brit suffered a crash and will be starting down in P18 at Brno, the venue of his first win. Tune in for Round 3 of Moto3™ on Sunday from 11:00 (GMT +2) for another lightweight class stunner.

Moto3™ front row

Raul Fernandez Red Bull KTM Ajo - KTM 2:08.372    

Gabriel Rodrigo Kömmerling Gresini Moto3 - Honda - +0.211

Tatsuki Suzuki SIC58 Squadra Corse - Honda - +0.336

Raul Fernandez: "I'm really happy, I want to say thanks to the team. We worked really well, all free practice it was incredible, and in the afternoon the feeling was incredible! In Moto3 it's difficult to stay at the top and it's important, and important for tomorrow in the race. I'm sure tomorrow we'll have another crazy race like always, really difficult to make a gap... but we need to fight for the podium."

Moto3™ front row L-R: Suzuki, Fernandez and Rodrigo
 
Quartararo crashed out but took yet another front row start...

Morbidelli was only eight thousandths off his teammate and took third

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