The final 30 minute Free Practice session got underway for the MotoGP class in the sunshine ahead of the Gran Premio Red Bull de Espana. The sun was out, the track temperature was up and conditions were most likely ideal for a great session ahead of Qualifying.
The riders were straight into the 1:39 minute laps within five minutes as they looked to match the pace set earlier in Free Practice 3 by session leader Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) who was quickest with a time of 1:38.580.
Zarco tangled up on track
There was something going on with Monster Tech3 Yamaha rookie, Johann Zarco who appeared to be struggling to get to grips and return to his usual fine form that he has indicated since the start of his debut MotoGP season. The double Moto2 champion and at first Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) nearly came into contact as the Italian had to sit up to avoid coming into contact with the rear tyre of Zarco at turn six.
Zarco then ended up engaged in a little battle with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) as the two tussled for the same piece of track with a few glances being thrown at each other. Aleix was able to go ahead of him and then Zarco was left having to fend off Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) who went top with his next lap as they approached the halfway mark of the session.
Keen to suss out his rival, Marquez then slotted in behind Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) on track but his lesson was soon over as they all returned to the pits.
Marquez quickest at the end of Free Practice 4
As usual in Free Practice 4, the remainder of the session remained tense yet uneventful as there were no further significant changes on the timesheet. Marquez finished the session as the quickest man heading into Qualifying with a time of 1:39.467. Just over two tenths of a second slower was Zarco and his rookie teammate Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3) in third.
At one of his favourite tracks, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) appears to have returned to the initial form he shown with his Ducati as he was just 0.265 seconds off the pace of Marquez in fourth and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) completed the top five in fifth.
Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) was sixth ahead of Dovizioso who after finishing 16th in FP3 surely looked like the favourite to progress from Q1 to Q2 as he was seventh quickest during the final practice session.
Free Practice 3 leader Pedrosa was eighth ahead of Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) completed the top 10 of the session that is usually used to confirm settings for the race the next day. What was interesting however was the fact that the top 18 riders were covered by less than a second; an indication of how much the changes have had an effect on the top class.
Lowes stalls at the very start of Qualifying 1
After a short break in proceedings the first Qualifying began; what was the last chance for the riders to earn the right to start from the front four rows of the grid.
Immediately they made their way out on track, unfortunately for Sam Lowes he stalled his Aprilia Racing Team Gresini and was forced to run the short distance to his pits while it was sorted; he sat down at the back of the garage not looking happy while his team hurried around the bikes.
They had to bring the bike back to the pits and work on switching fuel tanks between the two bikes so that he could match the new set up on his spare bike. With the machinery being so new parts and spares are very sparse and the team have to do what they can.
Iannone straight to the top determined to progress
On track, Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) immediately went to the top of the timesheets with a high 1:39 minute lap. Aleix Espargaro slotted in behind him. However, Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) soon went quicker and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) slotted in in third.
Next to claim the top spot was Aleix as he approached the 1:39 minute barrier and Dovizioso slotted in in second behind him. They were all displaying silver grey sectors however Iannone had a personal best third sector.
Lowes finally gets out on track
With just under eight minutes of the session remaining, Lowes was able to put his helmet back on and finally make his way out onto what was now an empty track as the remainder of the riders returned to make small and quick adjustments. Lowes was still running with the new fairing that contained internal air scoops that are designed to compensate for the effects from the banned winglets.
Just over five minutes remained and the majority of the riders had returned to the track for the final time attack possibly before their race. Within moments several were displaying yellow sectors throughout the track indicating that they were completing personal best times but none looked to be able to contend against Aleix and Dovizioso.
Aleix laps under 1:39 minutes
Then Aleix put things into gear and eventually broke through the 1:39 minute barrier and set a fastest time so far of 1:38.942 to help secure the top spot. A few seconds later, Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Ducati) jumped up to second pushing Dovizioso out of the top spot. Iannone and Pol Espargaro were pushing however, Pol could only achieve fourth but then improving on Aleix’s time by 0.02 seconds, Iannone went back to the top.
Both Dovizioso and Petrucci had their last flying laps cancelled. Dovizioso lost time due to traffic and was forced off the track meaning his attempts were over despite having the chance to complete another lap.
Iannone and Aleix progress through to Qualifying 2
Iannone could not improve any further on his final lap but he had done enough to finish quickest in Qualifying 1 and would continue on in Qualifying 2; however, the Italian ‘Maniac’ appeared frustrated with the performance. Aleix Espargaro was the rider that would join him in the final session of the day for the MotoGP class in Spain; on home turf.
Fifteen minutes to determine the front four rows of the grid
Qualifying 2 began and as everyone made their way out on track immediately, Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) chose to remain in his pit garage for a short while as he prepared himself. The leaderboard quickly filled up, and a mixture of yellow and red indicators on the timing sheet proved that changes were to come.
Marc completed a flying lap, the quickest time throughout the weekend so far of 1:38.300 setting the standard high early on. Pedrosa slotted in behind him on the timesheet, but as he began his next lap he was already displaying two red first sectors. As was Iannone as he towed Lorenzo on track but he dropped to a Personal Best sector in sector three; h moved up to third.
Pedrosa lost time in the final sector which meant that despite displaying three red sectors, he was still only potentially due to start the race from second on the grid. His teammate returned to the pits to make a quick change of bikes, and after briefly checking the timesheet he returned to the track as Pedrosa returned to his garage briefly.
Tensions building as the session grew to a close
The tension in Jerez grew as they began the final seven minutes of the Qualifying session. After quitting his flying lap on the switched bike, Marquez again returned to make another change; he clearly did not like the setting or simply found out what he needed to know.
Around four minutes remained and everyone was out on track for their final efforts. The temperature had increased and it showed up with the times. Lorenzo was completing a personal best lap towing Iannone was again on track who tucked in behind him. Zarco was also displaying a personal best time, Lorenzo could only match fifth again, behind Iannone who remained fourth, but then Zarco was able to take fifth from Lorenzo pushing him down to sixth.
Aleix’s day came to an unfortunate end early as he crashed out of turn two. After all his extraordinary efforts it all went wrong and he had to settle for 12th on the grid. He appeared unhurt as he walked away from a buried bike with his head down.
Crutchlow was flying on track and despite displaying three red sectors he crossed the line with a personal best time to potentially earn him a front row start in third. Pedrosa and Marquez were both flying however.
Pedrosa stole pole setting a time of 1:38.249 and decided not to try and fit another lap in. But Marquez, seeing he had pole stolen by his teammate, began a flying lap after quickly overtaking Pedrosa and continued to fly.
Quicker by almost 0.2 seconds during the first two seconds, his advantage dropped to 0.07 seconds after the third sector. Narrowly avoiding a crash he was able to keep going but lost time and was unable to improve on his own time.
Pedrosa on pole
The Repsol Honda rider earned himself a very much deserved pole position at the Circuit de Jerez with his time set earlier on. Beating the official Circuit Lap Record set during the race with his time, it turns out he had done enough. He will be joined on the front row by his teammate, Marquez.
And Crutchlow, who had to abort his final lap because something had gotten into his leather and stung him several times, completes the front row in third(as the highest placed independent team rider making it Honda 1,2,3).
Vinales leads the second row in fourth ahead of Iannone whose extraordinary efforts throughout the day claimed him fifth on the grid. Rookie Zarco is the highest of the rookies in sixth completing row two. Nine times world champion, and 2016 race winner, Rossi leads row three in seventh on the grid ahead of his former teammate, Lorenzo in eighth and rookie, Folger in ninth. Jack Miler (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Redding and Aleix Espargaro complete row four in 10th to 12th.
The remainder of the grid as determined by Qualifying 1
Results from Qualifying 1 meant that Petrucci leads the remainder of the field starting from the front of the fifth row having qualified 13th. Dovizioso will start from 13th as the third highest placed Desmosedici GP17 rider, and Pol Espargaro joins them on the fifth row in 15th with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team’s best qualifying so far.
Also running well, Bradley Smith (Reb Bull KTM Factory Racing) will start from 16th on the grid ahead of Bautista and Rabat in 18th. Injured Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar) is 19th ahead of Reale Avintia Racing Team teammates Loris Baz and Hector Barbera who complete the seventh row. Lowes will start the race from 22nd on the grid and will be joined on the final row by test rider Takuya Tsuda who in standing in for injured Alex Rins for Team Suzuki Ecstar.