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Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) laid down the gauntlet in a hectic MotoGP™ FP3 at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana. The Italian’s 1:30.168 was 0.454 seconds faster than Jack Miller’s (Pramac Racing) Friday time to see the Australian get demoted to P2 ahead of qualifying, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completed the top three. Championship leader Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) makes it into Q2 thanks to a P7 finish, but it’s not the same story for his two main title rivals. Teammate Alex Rins and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) miss out on a top 10 place and will have to compete in Q1.
With light rain disrupting Moto3™ FP3, MotoGP™ FP3 started with most of the riders sitting inside their garages. Pol Espargaro, teammate Brad Binder, Rins and Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) headed out on wet tyres, before Quartararo decided to venture out on slick tyres with 33 minutes to go. The rain had stopped for a while now and the track was drying quite quickly, and the Frenchman was immediately six seconds faster – a 1:39.594 was way off the quickest times from Friday, but the track was now clearly dry enough for slick tyres.
For Quartararo and Mir, this was crucial. Both were outside the top 10 and on his next lap, Quartararo set a 1:35.964, so it was looking good with 30 minutes to go that riders had the potential to go faster. El Diablo was then down to a 1:33.568, just under three seconds away from Miller’s table-topping time, before a 1:32.541 was slammed in as Quartararo was continuing to find time.
At the end of his run, Quartararo’s best time was a 1:32.037 and there was definitely a case to be made for seeing some top 10 movements in the latter stages. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was occupying P10 with 20 minutes of FP3 left, his best time was a 1:30.958 – just over a second faster. Pol Espargaro then beat Quartararo’s time by 0.140 seconds to go top in FP3, with Viñales then going fastest with a 1:31.780 as the riders started to chip away and get closer to Friday’s pace.
Viñales then went faster again before Morbidelli stepped up his game to set a 1:31.170, and the first 1:30 of Saturday morning soon followed. Morbidelli moved himself up to P4 on the combined times and that signalled that we were in top 10 shootout territory, game on in Valencia with 12 minutes left on the clock for Mir and Quartararo to try and get a top 10 slot.
Mir was trying but couldn’t break down the barrier, and soon the Spaniard came into pitlane for some fresh soft rubber. With nine minutes left, the only rider to have improved was Morbidelli. A huge end to FP3 was incoming, with Quartararo – who needed to find three tenths – then coming back into pitlane for some new Michelin tyres. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) was the second rider to find speed on Saturday to go P12 before Viñales shot into P5 on the combined times, with Rins now P10 and in the danger zone.
Four tenths covered the top 14 riders with three minutes left. That’s how desperately close it was in MotoGP™ as Quartararo improved his time, half a second off P1, but remained P16. Binder also found time but the South African was P13, with Mir now 14th. The latter then went P11 but Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Oliveira went quicker, with Morbidelli in a different league altogether. The Italian was half a second under through the third split and went fastest by four tenths, with Mir setting red sectors now! Sure enough, Mir got the business done when it mattered and went P5, just after Quartararo went into the top 10. But after Mir’s lap, the Frenchman was relegated back down to P11.
Could Quartararo find time on his last flying lap? No he couldn’t, and neither could Rins. The two chasing Mir in the title race will have to fight in Q1 as Mir made it through. But no one could beat Morbidelli, the Yamaha man ends Saturday morning nearly half a second clear of the field and shoves Miller down to P2, the Australian’s Friday time keeping him towards the summit, with Pol Espargaro climbing to P3. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) and Viñales also improve in FP3 to sit inside the top five, Takaaki Nakagami’s (LCR Honda Idemitsu) Friday effort sees the Japanese rider claim P6. Mir’s excellent FP3 sees him climb to a crucial P7 as Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) slips to P8 after failing to improve. Oliveira and Aleix Espargaro grab the final top 10 places as Quartararo misses out by an agonising 0.002 seconds, the likes of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Rins slip out of the top 10.
A frantic end to FP3 sees drama unfold. Now, a monumental Q1 awaits Rins and Quartararo, before the pole position shootout takes place. Tune in for MotoGP™ qualifying at 14:50 local time (GMT+1) to witness the most important Saturday afternoon battle of the year take place.
Top 10 combined:
1. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – 1.30.168
2. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.454
3. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.468
4. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 0.490
5. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.529
6. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.545
7. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.566
8. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) + 0.574
9. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) + 0.681
10. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.697