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MotoGP at Catalunya: A Qualifying Review

It took 7 qualifying sessions at 7 different circuits for Marc Marquez’s pole position streak to finally come to an end. A review of the Catalan Qualifying session

The only thing we love more than a proper battle for position during a race is a good old-fashioned surprise. Admittedly there haven’t been that many of those this season, especially during the Qualifying.

We have more or less been left to admire riding styles during Qualifying – that or wondering who would take the second or third place on the grid. We have been forced to watch Valentino Rossi struggle through Qualifying, in a way that had made many a fan wince.

We have watched Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo try for the first spot, even as Aleix Espargaro demonstrates his ample talent again and again.

Marquez's pole position streak came to an end on the gravel trap, as Pedrosa took pole. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

Marquez’s pole position streak came to an end on the gravel trap, as Pedrosa took pole. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

And we have watched Marc Marquez smash through records, once…twice…thrice… six times. Seven if you count Valencia last year.

Not in Catalunya! It was here at the sunshiny Spanish circuit, where spots of rain occasionally threatened to break up the party that Marquez finally broke his streak.

He crashed out for the first time this season after losing the front end at turn 1. Marquez had already set a fast time by the end of the first Q2 lap with a time of 1’41.135s.

Success! Pedrosa celebrates his first pole position in a year, while showing off his Catalan-special helmet  dedicated to his fans. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

Success! Pedrosa celebrates his first pole position in a year, while showing off his Catalan-special helmet dedicated to his fans. Image courtesy Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

But teammate Pedrosa, who has been a bit of a damp squib the past few races (he’s still recovering from arm surgery), was in form. He showed pace right from the beginning in front of his home crowd. He quickly gathered up his pace as Q2 neared completion and knocked Marquez off pole position, with a 1’40.985s. It was enough to rattle the young world champion who pitted to swap bikes. Marquez was on his final flying lap and entered turn 1 too fast.

He lost the front end of the bike and slid across the gravel trap, coming to a stop – unhurt and at 3rd place on the grid.

Pedrosa retained his brilliant time (1’40.985) and grabbed the pole crown for himself. This is his first pole position this year – the last being at Catalunya round in 2013. He said in a team release, “I am very happy to have taken pole position today, in front of my family and the home fans! I am also delighted that, for the first time year, I felt good on the bike in qualifying. I’ll try and get a good start from pole position tomorrow, I am sure that it will be very hot and we will have to managed the tyres well during the race, but we will try to do as well as possible!”

Jorge Lorenzo with Anna Vives. He scored a special helmet, a special number and a second spot on the grid. Image courtesy Yamaha Racing team (editorial use only)

Jorge Lorenzo with Anna Vives. He scored a special helmet, a special number and a second spot on the grid. Image courtesy Yamaha Racing team (editorial use only)

The Yamahas were in top form once again – there seems to be a glimmer of hope there. Jorge Lorenzo is ready to demonstrate that Mugello was not a one-off. He showed steady, fast pace and took 2nd place on the grid with 1’41.100s. Rossi hugged the bottom of the ladder for most of the session. But was back on pace – of sorts, even as the cameras and the rest of world were focused on the Marquez crash. Vale starts 5th.

Alvaro Bautista continued his streak of bad luck with a nasty crash that has left him feeling decidedly sore in the chest and right ankle. He was unhurt and returned to the qualifying session, ending 12th on the grid.

Meanwhile Cal Crutchlow continued struggling – it’s almost like watching history repeat itself a la Valentino Rossi, as the Brit rider ended up in Q1, but didn’t have the necessary pace. He will start the race at 13th place, after clocking in a dismal 1’42.578. In contrast, his teammate Andrea Dovizioso set a good pace from the first lap on Q1 and got himself a 7th place. The practice sessions had belong to Stefan Bradl, and he continued his showing of strength with a 4th place and a time of 1’41.220.

The fluorescent pink seems so much more better in comparison to this blinding yellow! Nevertheless, Aleix Espargaro got a fantastic 6th spot on the grid. Image courtesy NGM Forward Racing team (editorial use only)

The fluorescent pink seems so much more better in comparison to this blinding yellow! Nevertheless, Aleix Espargaro got a fantastic 6th spot on the grid. Image courtesy NGM Forward Racing team (editorial use only)

The two riders who rocked the circuit though this session were Aleix Espargaro in his blinding yellow leathers and helmet. The Spanish rider, who is racing in front of his home crowd this weekend, posted the 6th fastest time, just three-tenths from Pedrosa. He later said in a team release, “…The feeling with the bike improved a lot and I have a good pace. To start from the second row, just .323s from Dani and very close to Valentino and Jorge is good and tomorrow I will do my best to get a great result in front of my home crowd.”

Yonny Hernandez clocked in his best Qualifying result so far. Image courtesy Pramac Racing Team (editorial use only)

Yonny Hernandez clocked in his best Qualifying result so far. Image courtesy Pramac Racing Team (editorial use only)

Meanwhile Colombian rider Yonny Hernandez was the fastest he has been so far and outpaced his teammate Andrea Iannone consistently. He clocked in a 1’41.671s and took 9th place on the grid. He said in a team release, “Compared to yesterday, I have a lot more feeling with the bike. I managed to improve my lap timing riding under 1’49. I gave the right instructions to the team and they were able to make the right improvements to the bike. Now, I’m able to ride the way I like.”

And so it is that sunny Saturday gives way to Sunday. Will it be a rainy race? The question on everyone’s mind. Lorenzo hopes it won’t be. But if it does rain, it will throw everything for a loop. Either way, may the best man win!

UPDATE: Marquez posted a picture of rainy Montmelo (pouring cats and dogs), and the weatherman predicts thunder and lightning!

The Grid So Far

Dani Pedrosa (1’40.985)

Jorge Lorenzo (1’41.100)

Marc Marquez (1’41.135)

Stefan Bradl (1’41.220)

Valentino Rossi (1’41.290)

Aleix Espargaro (1’41.308)

Andrea Dovizioso (1’41.337)

Bradley Smith (1’41.491)

Yonny Hernandez (1’41.671)

Pol Espargaro (1’41.677)

Fantastica La Foto

Stefan Bradl rubs shoulders with the Catalan circuit - quite literally. Image courtesy Bridgestone (editorial use only)

Stefan Bradl rubs shoulders with the Catalan circuit – quite literally. Image courtesy Bridgestone (editorial use only)

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