Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) laid down the gauntlet in FP2 at the BMW M Grand Prix of Styria. The Spaniard set a 1:23.638 in the latter stages of Friday afternoon’s shootout to lead the way on the combined times by over two tenths from FP1 pacesetter Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) finished inside the top three in the afternoon sun, but Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) remains third overall thanks to his FP1 time.
In the heat of FP2, Pol Espargaro got straight down to a low 1:24 to lead the way in the opening stages as the riders went about trying to dial in their race settings. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) led a trio of Yamahas behind the KTM, with Petronas Yamaha SRT duo Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo third and fourth. The Italian and Mir found the Turn 4 gravel trap in the early stages on FP2 though, the two ran wide on separate occasions at the tricky, downhill right-hander.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Nakagami were soon penetrating the top five in the afternoon session though as the Suzuki and Honda riders split the Yamahas with 20 minutes to go, before Rins shot to the top of the times to demote Pol Esparagro to second. Track temperatures were reaching 50 degrees with 10 minutes of the session to go in Styria as we began to see some fresh soft Michelin rubber getting slotted in, the riders eying a top 10 at the end of play.
And setting the timing screens alight was KTM’s Espargaro. A leading contender throughout the Austrian GP, the number 44 was again showing he and the RC16 are right at home at the Red Bull Ring. Sure enough, Polyccio slammed in the fastest lap of the weekend to retake P1 in FP2 – and take P1 on the combined times too. Mir went second soon after but the Spaniard was 0.3 off Espargaro’s lightning pace, with teammate Rins then going second as the Suzukis were looking mighty once more.
Championship leader Quartararo didn’t have it all his own way at the end of FP2 though. The Frenchman was a frustrated figure in the final five minutes as he ran on at Turn 1 and Turn 4 in quick succession, seeing the 21-year-old unable to properly attack and beat his FP1 time. There were no such problems for Nakagami though, the Japanese star shot to P2 as the chequered flag waved.
In terms of the combined times, Pol Espargaro takes a good 0.221 advantage into Saturday as Miller and Dovizioso remain second and third after finishing first and second in FP1. The Ducati pair ended FP2 languishing down in P15 and P17 though, is that cause for concern for two of the podium finishers last Sunday? Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) finished P6 in FP2 but holds P4 on the combined times, the Portuguese rider unable to improve his time in the afternoon session but it was nevertheless a very good day for the MotoGP™ sophomore.
Nakagami and Mir sit fifth and sixth on the combined times after their magnificent efforts in FP2. Both riders are looking excellent at the Red Bull Ring having finished fourth and fifth in the opening session on Friday morning as 0.269 covers the top six, despite Espargaro holding a 0.221 advantage. With his FP2 performance, Rins jumps from P15 to P7 to cement his name as a contender in Styria. Viñales and Morbidelli are the two Yamahas inside the top 10, the YZR-M1 duo both improved their times in FP2, while Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) sits P10 ahead of FP3 – the South African didn’t go quicker in FP2, seeing him slip from P7 to P10 on the combined times.
There’s work to do for Quartararo in FP3 if the double Jerez winner is to earn an automatic Q2 place. El Diablo sits P14 on the combined times behind Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), as 0.985 splits Pol Espargaro to 19th place Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) after the opening day in Styria. It’s fiercely competitive.
FP3 is going to be a stunner at 09:55 (GMT+2) on Saturday morning. The cooler conditions should provide the riders which the right tools to improve their times from Friday, as everyone eyes the top 10 to get themselves straight into Q2.
Top 10 combined:
1. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 1:23.638
2. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.221
3. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 0.225
4. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) + 0.260
5. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.266
6. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.269
7. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.371
8. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.422
9. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.549
10. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.613
Click here for the full results!