He's done it again: seven days after topping Friday in the Austrian GP, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) returned to the top of the timesheets on Day 1 of the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria, giving KTM yet more to smile about in Spielberg. The Spaniard was two tenths clear at the top courtesy of his FP2 best, with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) slotting into second from his fastest effort in the morning. Fresh from the top step of the Red Bull Ring podium, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) completed the top three - an infinitesimal 0.004 off Miller.
It was Miller who took to the top of FP1 as action began again, but the Australian retained the shadow he'd had for much of his time in the lead of the Austria GP, with Dovizioso just that aforementioned 0.004 off the Aussie's best. The timesheets in FP1 were so tight that the top five - completed by Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) - were covered by just 0.102. Not, that's not a typo.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) extends it to five manufacturers in the top six as he was next up on the FP1 timesheets, just a couple more tenths down, ahead of a much improved Friday for tookie Brno winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in P7. Fellow rookie KTM rider Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) picked up with the form he'd left off with too as he was eighth, ahead of Austrian GP polesitter Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), who completed the top ten in the morning.
With sunny skies and not much sign that will change any time soon, FP1 saw a little less of a rush than this time last week and there was only one crasher in the session, Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing), as the Spaniard took a tumble at Turn 4 - rider ok.
FP2 saw Pol Espargaro hit back, and by the end of play he was the only rider able to dethrone Miller and Dovizioso's FP1 efforts, courtesy of a 1:23.638. With pace all the way through the Austrian GP weekend before the race ended in disappointment in a crash, the Spaniard remains a force to be reckoned with at the Red Bull Ring. Nakagami was the closest man to him in the afternoon but could only home in to within two and a half tenths, with Mir just 0.003 off the Japanese rider to take third.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) - another looking for a comeback after a crash on Sunday - was a tenth behind his teammate despite his continued recovery from his shoulder injury, with Viñales completing FP2's top five.
Overall, the headlines remain in KTM's court as Pol Espargaro keeps his hold on Friday honours in Styria from that FP2 lap, with Miller and Dovizioso's FP1 times putting them in hot pursuit, fresh from the podium. Oliveira's FP1 best makes it two KTMs in the top four as the Portuguese sophomore - and Austrian factory - continue to impress.
Nakagami was once again top Honda as he completed the top five courtesy of his fastest effort in FP2, and the Japanese rider says they've improved braking stability and front end feel - sounding very positive about his prospects on Sunday. Mir and Rins, meanwhile, stack the Suzukis up in P6 and P7 as the Hamamatsu factory continue their warning shots for the field. Viñales emerges from the Friday shuffle in eighth as the fastest Yamaha, but not by much as Morbidelli ended the day just half a tenth in arrears.
The final man set to move through as it stands is Binder, who was P10 overall. Last Friday the rookie said he'd struggled to manage even one decent lap, but what a difference a week - and a fourth place in the Austria GP - make. Lecuona was just 0.050 off the South African too as he took 11th, missing out but keeping that strong form after a tougher start to his MotoGP™ career.
Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), despite fifth in the Austrian GP, ended the second Friday in Styria in P13 and will want to move forward and grab a place in Q2 - and Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) most definitely will as he ended the day just behind the 'Doctor'. Last weekend it was braking that caused some drama for the Frenchman, this week he says it's more the drop in pace that's bothering him... but the weekend remains young and Quartararo has finished two Fridays outside the top ten and two within it so far in 2020.
FP3 starts at 9:55 (GMT +2) as the likes of Rossi, Quartararo and Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) saddle up to try and move through. But with the weather forecast looking positive, there wasn't the same mad Friday dash this weekend - so plenty can change ahead of qualifying. Saturday morning is also expected to welcome Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) back on track as he was passed fit to ride from FP3 on after his recent scaphoid surgery. Stat attack: the Frenchman has never ridden with an injury before, and isn't sure what to expect...
Q1 starts at 14:10, before the top 12 places on the grid are decided just after in another stunning Q2 shootout at 14:35.
MotoGP™: the five fastest on Friday
1 Pol Espargaro - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - KTM - 1:23.638
2 Jack Miller* - Pramac Racing - Ducati - +0.221
3 Andrea Dovizioso - Ducati Team - Ducati - +0.225
4 Miguel Oliveira* - Red Bull KTM Tech 3 - KTM - +0.260
5 Takaaki Nakagami* - LCR Honda Idemitsu - Honda - +0.266
*Independent Team rider
Lowes pips Gardner by just 0.016 on Friday
The top four end Friday within 0.081, with the Briton coming out on top after another show of pace
Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) has repeated his Friday heroics on take two as the Briton topped the combined timesheets on Day 1 of the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria. It was far from lonely at the top though, with Austrian GP polesitter Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) just 0.016 down and most recent race winner Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) completing the top three... still within 0.060. As ever, the intermediate class is close!
Lowes topped the sunny FP1 session despite some late threats from those just behind him, the Brit putting in a 1:28.733 to get the better of the competition. Gardner and Martin took second and third with those tiny gaps to the top, and fourth? Fourth was still within a tenth of Lowes' best, with Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) 0.081 down. Championship leader Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) was fifth, just over a tenth in arrears.
There were two incidents in the session, one a Turn 1 crash for Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing), rider ok, and the other a run off for Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP). Schrötter headed through the gravel but kept it upright and rejoined.
The weather remained sunny in FP2 but no one could quite get in the ballpark of the morning's best laptimes. Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) topped the session in the 1:29s, with Gardner again close - this time just 0.042 off - and Jorge Navarro (+Ego Speed Up) third, two tenths off Bezzecchi. Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) both put in top sessions in the afternoon to end FP2 in P4 and P5 respectively.
Impressive rookie Aron Canet (Openbank Aspar Team) had a blip in FP2 and was the sole crasher in the afternoon after he went down at Turn 1 - rider ok.
Looking through the fastest 14, most of the riders heading through - provisionally - to Q2 after Friday set their best in FP1, with Lowes, Gardner, Martin, Bulega and Marini the top five. Sixth went the way of Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) as his improved form of late continues, with Bezzecchi in seventh overall.
Despite his crash, Canet's FP1 time is enough to put the rookie in eighth, the Speed Up rider the only non-Kalex in the top ten, with former points leader Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) slotting into ninth. Austrian GP podium finisher Schrötter completes that top ten despite his morning run off.
Currently, the final four set to move through are Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing) - who had one of his best Fridays in some time - Navarro courtesy of his FP2 time, Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP), and Garzo... leaving the likes of Brno podium finisher Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) outside the graduation zone in P17, and Qatar GP winner Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo) in P20.
Can they make it through when the field head out for FP3? That's their final chance to move straight through to Q2, and it begins at 10:55 on Saturday morning. Qualifying then starts at 15:10.
Moto2™: the five fastest on Friday
1 Sam Lowes - EG 0,0 Marc VDS - Kalex - 1:28.733
2 Remy Gardner - ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team - Kalex - +0.016
3 Jorge Martin - Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex +0.060
4 Nicolo Bulega - Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 - Kalex +0.081
5 Luca Marini - Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex +0.117
Vietti takes command in Styria
The Italian throws down the gauntlet after just missing out on the podium in the Austrian GP
Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) is the fastest man on Friday in the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria, setting the only 1:35 of the day in FP1 and no one able to depose him in the afternoon. Championship leader Albert Arenas (Valresa Aspar Team) is second, three tenths down by virtue of his FP1 time too, with Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) in third from his fastest lap in FP2.
Vietti was the fastest out the blocks, topping the first session of the weekend with a 1:35.997 and the only man in the 1:35s then and, ultimately, all day. That said, he also crashed at Turn 1 the end of the session, rider ok. Championship leader Arenas was second quickest as he is overall, three tenths down, ahead of Kömmerling Gresini Moto3's Jeremy Alcoba as the reigning Moto3™ Junior World Champion took third in the morning.
Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team), Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing), Darryn Binder (CIP - Green Power), Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) completed the top ten - which is pretty much the front group from the Austrian GP...
John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who is second in the Championship heading into the Styrian GP, suffered an early spill at Turn 10 and ended the session in P11, rider ok.
The other crasher was Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), who finished the session in P17.
Suzuki took over in the afternoon to head the timesheets, quickest in FP2 ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) but by just 0.011. Arbolino was third, still within 0.060, with McPhee turning the tables on key rival Arenas to beat the Spaniard to fourth.
In typical Moto3™ style, much of FP2 was spent with many in the field seeming to almost be racing a little early - with one big group out on track putting on an impressive but slightly premature show. With the slipstream so important for a laptime in Spielberg, the riders were certainly searching for it.
Alonso Lopez (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) was the sole crasher in the afternoon session, rider ok.
Overall, it's Vietti who heads the provisional Q2 graduates ahead of Arenas, both courtesy of their FP1 times. Suzuki, Rodrigo and Arbolino's best laps in FP2 see them complete the top five in that order, ahead of Alcoba and Fernandez in P6 and P7, respectively. McPhee beats Masia to eighth overall, with Deniz Öncü completing the top ten.
Foggia, Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team), Binder and Sasaki are currently the final four set to move through, but with better weather forecasts this weekend, it remains anyone's game in FP3. That's what Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) will certainly be counting on, as he ended Friday in 16th and with title rivals Arenas and McPhee well ahead of him.
Tune in again to see the lightweight class jostle for a position in Q2 on Saturday morning, before qualifying from 12:35.
Moto3™: the five fastest on Friday
1 Celestino Vietti - Sky Racing Team VR46 - KTM 1:35.997
2 Albert Arenas - Valresa Aspar Team - KTM +0.306
3 Tatsuki Suzuki - SIC58 Squadra Corse - Honda +0.401
4 Gabriel Rodrigo - Kömmerling Gresini Moto3 - Honda +0.412
5 Tony Arbolino - Rivacold Snipers Team - Honda +0.461