Pol Espargaro and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing earned their first MotoGP™ pole positions after taking the spoils on Saturday at the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria. It was a fierce Q2 session at the Red Bull Ring that saw Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claim his maiden premier class front row in P2, with Q1 graduate Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) defying the odds to qualify third. However, the Frenchman will start from pitlane on Sunday.
The opening laps in Q2 were tentative but once the riders got one lap under their belt, qualifying kicked off in stunning style at the Styrian GP. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was the first man to delve into the 1:23s with a 1:23.866, with Zarco slotting into second despite his recently operated on scaphoid. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) went onto the provisional front row before Nakagami then went P3.
A raging Red Bull then came flying over the line to snatch provisional pole position from Quartararo. Pol Espargaro took over at the top by two tenths and moved the goalposts to a 1:23.645, but he wouldn’t be at the top of the tree for long. Nakagami was on a charge and the Japanese star took P1 by 0.043 as a breathless opening stint ended. The Austrian hills fell silent for a brief period as fresh Michelin rubber got slotted in, ready for five minutes of MotoGP™ mayhem at the Red Bull Ring.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) – who didn’t set a lap time in Q2 after encountering shoulder issues after his FP3 crash – jumped from P11 to P3 with a great lap, before Espargaro then shot to the top of the times by 0.022. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) climbed to P4 and after two sectors, his teammate Mir was on for pole position – and so was Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso. Mir couldn’t hold his advantage in Sectors 3 and 4 as the Suzuki rider went P3, with Dovizioso slotting into P6.
Quartararo had slipped from P1 to P7 with just over a minute to go, as his compatriot Zarco went flying onto the front row. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) found himself down in P10 and he was up after two sectors. However, with Pol Espargaro absolutely lightning through Sector 3, Viñales lost time and had to settle for P6. Was there a further late twist in the bull’s tail? Pol Espargaro and KTM were all set for celebrating their maiden premier class pole positions but Nakagami was on a flyer. The Honda man was just 0.006 down after Sector 3 but Nakagami couldn’t hold on – with his lap getting cancelled for exceeding track limits anyway.
The cameras panned to the KTM box and it was celebrations galore. It’s a first pole position for the Austrian factory and being able to do it on home soil will make the feeling even sweeter. It’s also Pol Espargaro’s first MotoGP™ pole position, his attentions will now turn to making it a victory for himself and KTM on Sunday afternoon. Nakagami will line-up in the middle of the front row knowing he has a genuine shout of victory at the Red Bull Ring. What a performance from Nakagami.
And what a performance from Zarco. Surgery on Wednesday, fitness test on Friday, no laps completed in FP4 – third place in Q2. A pitlane start faces the double Moto2™ World Champion on Sunday, but there are definitely some important points up for grabs for the number 5. Fourth place for Mir is his best MotoGP™ qualifying and after finishing second from P6 last weekend, Mir will start Sunday’s battle brimming with confidence. You know things are looking good when the premier class sophomore looks disappointed with P4 and a best Q2 performance…
Things really didn’t look good for Austrian GP podium finisher Miller in FP4. A crash in FP3 looked to be putting his weekend in serious doubt with Team Manager Francesco Guidotti telling Simon Crafar that he’s experiencing shoulder pain. But the Australian gritted his teeth to pocket a P5, just 0.120 shy of pole position. Austrian GP polesitter Viñales’ late lap sees the Spaniard start as the leading Yamaha rider, with 0.198 splitting the leading six riders – how close do you like it?
Rins spearheads Row 3 for the inaugural Grand Prix of Styria, the Spaniard is joined by Oliveira and Dovizioso in P8 and P9 respectively. All three have shown – at least – podium pace this weekend, so it’s going to be a scintillating watch as they try to carve their way through the field from P7, P8 and P9. Championship leader Quartararo – despite finishing just 0.286 away from pole – will start from an equal-worst Q2 result in 10th. The 2019 Czech GP was the last time he finished this low down the grid and Quartararo starts off the front row for the first time since the 2019 British GP – almost exactly a year ago. Fellow Petronas Yamaha SRT rider Franco Morbidelli and Q1 graduate Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) finished P11 and P12 in Q2, with the top 12 split by just 0.594.
Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will start P15 for the Styrian GP after crashing on his final flying lap in Q1. The Doctor was on course to potentially grab P2 in Q1 but he and his YZR-M1 slid out of contention at Turn 9, giving the Italian plenty of work to do on Sunday afternoon. Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) also narrowly missed out on a Q2 place, the KTMs will start P13 and P14.
Pol Espargaro and KTM are in Saturday dreamland for the first time, but Sunday is where it all counts. A whole host of riders have shown they could have what it takes to win in Styria, so now the wait begins for 14:00 (GMT+2) on Sunday. A rearing to go Red Bull will charge from pole for the first time, but will it be two wins from three for the orange army?
Everyone will move up a position with Zarco having to start from pitlane, so this shakes things up further. Are you ready for another 2020 Spielberg thriller?
1. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – 1:23.580
2. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.022
3. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 0.052
4. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.098
5. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.120
6. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.198
7. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.202
8. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) + 0.217
9. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 0.269
10. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.286