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Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) sprinkled some more of his magic to secure his second pole position of 2020, the Italian setting a 1:30.191 in a blisteringly epic MotoGP™ Q2 at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana to beat Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) by 0.096 seconds. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) is on the front row once more as the top three in the World Championship endured difficult qualifying sessions. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) will start P12, just behind 11th place Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) fails to make it out of Q1.
Round 14: MotoGP™ Q1 at the Valencia Grand Prix
As soon as FP4 ended, the light rain once again started to fall ahead of a monumentally huge Q1 for both Quartararo and Rins. As the green light lit up at the end of pitlane to signal the start of the session, the riders were packed together like a Grand National start. The riders needed to get a lap time in while the Circuit Ricardo Tormo remained dry enough for a slick tyre lap time – and Rins was the guinea pig. The Suzuki man was leading the riders around the opening lap as the times shot in, and it was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Quartararo who topped Q1 after the first lap.
Rins was being shadowed by Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing), but it was Binder who extended his advantage in P1 by a significant margin, before Quartararo also improved to get within two tenths of the South African. As the riders continued to get to grips with the Q1 conditions, Alex Marquez suffered a huge highside at Turn 11 just in front of Binder. Thankfully, the reigning Moto2™ World Champion was up and walking after a seriously big get-off.
Alex Marquez walks away from vicious 500cc style highside
With six minutes of Q1 to go, Rins was P4 and seven tenths off Binder’s time. More crucially, the Spaniard was six tenths off Quartararo’s second place time. A huge final few minutes remained because if Rins or Quartararo didn’t get into Q2, with Mir waiting patiently for the second part of qualifying, it would be a disaster. To add to the tension, motogp.com pitlane reporter Simon Crafar was confirming that more spots of rain were falling, but there was still time to find. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was last but moved up to P6, Dovizioso improved his time but not position, however, it wasn’t happening for Rins.
The rain flags were flying and with 40 seconds left of the session, Rins started his last lap. However, the man third in the World Championship would not be competing in Q2 after sitting up. P14 on the grid for Rins but in the Petronas Yamaha SRT garage, Quartararo had done enough to get through to join Q1’s fastest man Binder.
A sensational first 15 minutes of MotoGP™ qualifying was done and dusted, with Q2 rearing its head. There was still rain in the air and the tension was palpable, the most important 15 minutes of the season so far was upon us. The 12 riders were on track with Michelin slick tyres and as the first times were set, Quartararo was fastest with a 1:31.889 – but the count wasn’t going to be stopped there as the red sectors lit up the timing screens.
Morbidelli went seven tenths faster than his teammate as Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) slotted into P2 and P3, before Quartararo returned to the top by a tenth and a half. Free Practice pacesetter Miller then came to play with a lap time good enough for P3, before two KTMs rose to the fore. Binder went provisional pole and just behind him on track, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) went P1 with a 1:30.839. Quartararo responded and closed the gap to less than a tenth, the Frenchman P2 with Mir lingering in P10 after the first run.
As most of the riders piled into pitlane, Binder stayed out to complete his next flying lap. And it’s a good job he did – Binder shot to P1 to make it a KTM 1-2, as Quartararo narrowly avoided a crash at Turn 2. The reason why Binder and Quartararo weren’t pitting is that they didn’t have any fresh soft rear tyres left available for Q2, after coming through Q1. Then, the third KTM in Q2 was fastest through the third split. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), with three minutes to go, went P2 to make it a KTM 1-2-3 – but it wasn’t for long.
Why? Because Viñales crossed the line to go over a tenth clear. Provisional pole was Top Gun’s but Miller then raised the stakes considerably. The Australian’s lap was three tenths faster than anyone else as Zarco and Pol Espargaro went P3 and P2. It was all kicking off in Valencia as Aleix Espargaro went P4, Mir improved but stayed 10th before Morbidelli beat Miller’s time by less than a tenth to go provisional pole. Now, after being on pole, Oliveira found himself P8 and Quartararo was P9, just ahead of Nakagami and Mir.
Mir had to dig deep. He was on his last lap and it was a personal best – but it was nowhere near good enough. Mir stayed P12 as Nakagami shot up to the front row from 11th place, Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) climbed to P8 as the dust then settled on an outstanding and enthralling MotoGP™ Q2. Morbidelli’s time would go unbeaten as he claimed a fantastic second pole position of 2020, Miller is less than a tenth down in second and Nakagami notches up his third consecutive front row start.
Three manufacturers are on the front row for the penultimate race of the season, and it’s a Ducati who spearheads the second row. Zarco ends 0.3 seconds away from pole and joining the Frenchman behind the front row is Pol Espargaro and Viñales. Aleix Espargaro misses out on a second row start by a slender 0.012 seconds, seventh place Bagnaia is a further 0.014 off the Spaniard as the leading eight contenders finish 0.480 seconds apart in Q2.
After sitting on the front row with very little time remaining, Binder has to settle for P9. Oliveira slips down with the South African to claim P10 in Valencia GP qualifying, as we then get to where the big story lies. After coming through Q1, Quartararo could only manage P11. However, crucially, the man behind him is title rival Mir. It’s not the session the Championship leader would have wanted and after seeing teammate Rins place P14, it was a huge opportunity missed by the number 36. This means the leading trio in the Championship start P11, P12 and P14 for Sunday’s tantalising showdown.
Plaudits go to Morbidelli though. The Italian is mathematically in this title race still and starting from pole position, the Italian is in great shape to go for his third victory of 2020. And who knows, if drama unfolds in the mid-pack with the title favourites, the likes of Morbidelli and Viñales have a final opportunity to capitalise and take the title race down to the wire.
It goes without saying: you do not want to miss the MotoGP™ race at 14:00 local time (GMT+1) on Sunday afternoon at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. It’s match point Mir and a podium will hand him the title, but starting from P12, that looks an almighty task. Tune in to witness yet more 2020 drama unfold as the penultimate race of this crazy season gets underway.
1. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) – 1:30.191
2. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.096
3. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.222
4. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 0.329
5. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.362
6. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.454
7. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.466
8. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) + 0.480
9. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.546
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) + 0.590