Espargaro takes Aprilia’s first ever MotoGP pole

Aleix Espargaro. Picture: MotoGP.com

Aleix Espargaro has given Aprilia its first pole position in the MotoGP era in qualifying for the Gran Premio Michelin De La Republica Argentina.

The Spaniard went as fast as a 1:37.688s just before the chequered flag flew on Qualifying 2 at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, usurping Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin.

As such, the front row for Sunday’s 25-lapper will be Espargaro on #41, and the Ducati GP22s of Martin and Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini.

Maverick Viñales made it both Aprilias in the top five, 2021 championship Fabio Quartararo took sixth, and Jack Miller ended up 11th after an early crash in Q2.

However, the latter could yet start even further back than that after seemingly impeding Quartararo during their second runs, a matter which is under investigation.

UPDATE: Miller tells reporters he has been given a grid penalty

After the saga that was the late-running cargo plane, the premier class finally hit the track from just after midday on Saturday (local time) for two, hour-long practice sessions and the usual pair of qualifying hit-outs.

Among those who had to go into Qualifying 1 were championship leader Enea Bastianini (Gresini Ducati) and an out-of-sorts Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), neither of whom would get out of that session.

Viñales (Aprilia Racing) kicked things off in Q2 with a 1:38.880s, which was quickly beaten by Martin’s 1:38.425s and Miller’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) 1:38.584s.

No sooner had Miller set that time, however, was he down at Turn 1 at the start of his second flyer after folding the front of Bike #43.

By the time the first runs were done, Espargaro held sway on a 1:38.108s, from Martin, Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) on a 1:38.487s, Miller, and Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) on a 1:38.655s.

When the field went back out for their second runs, Quartararo was seen gesticulating at Miller after apparently being held up by the Queenslander on the way to Turn 7 while on a hot lap.

With less than two minutes to go, Martin went back to the top on a 1:37.839s, while Marini took over third spot on a 1:38.119s.

Espargaro then fired in the 1:37.688s, but the threat of Brad Binder remained given the Red Bull KTM rider was fastest to the second sector with the chequered flag out.

However, the South African’s lap went away from him in the third sector, by more than a second, and Aprilia Racing was indeed able to celebrate a pole position.

Behind the front row of Aleix Espargaro, Martin, and Marini, will be a second row of Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) from Viñales and Quartararo.

Rins qualified seventh, ahead of Suzuki team-mate Joan Mir and Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati).

Takaaki Nakagami came from COVID isolation to a surprise start this weekend and ultimately 10th on the grid on his Idemitsu LCR Honda.

Miller was unable to improve on his first run when he went back out on his second bike, leaving him 11th on the grid for now, and Brad Binder one spot further back.

Earlier in the day, Bagnaia had been an obviously frustrated figure after failing to earn direct passage to the latter stanza of qualifying.

To make matters worse, he hardly set a representative lap time on his first run in Q1, having had a very unsettled run through Turn 11, and was 14th-quickest of 14 when the track went quiet.

The Italian immediately jumped to the top on his second run with a 1:38.610s, but was then edged by Nakagami on a 1:38.523s and then Pol Espargaro on a 1:38.501s.

Bastianini knocked Bagnaia back another spot when he clocked a 1:38.566s in the last minute before the chequered flag, and neither would be able to do any better than that.

As such, Row 5 on the grid on Sunday afternoon will be Bastianini from Bagnaia and their compatriot Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha).

Last-start winner Miguel Oliveira could manage only 16th on his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing entry, ahead of Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (WithU RNF Yamaha), Alex Marquez (Castrol LCR Honda), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati), and Raul Fernandez (Tech3 KTM) in 21st.

Remy Gardner is set to start 22nd on his Tech3 KTM, with the rest of the grid being Darryn Binder (WithU RNF Yamaha), and Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda) on the seat normally occupied by Marc Marquez.

After a longer than usual, 40-minute Warm Up session, race start is due at 15:00 local time/04:00 AEST (Monday morning).

Qualifying: Argentina MotoGP

Pos Num Rider Nat Team Bike Time Gap 1st/prev Session
1 41 Aleix ESPARGARO ESP Aprilia Racing Aprilia 1:37.688 Q2
2 89 Jorge MARTIN ESP Pramac Racing Ducati 1:37.839 0.151/0.151 Q2
3 10 Luca MARINI ITA Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati 1:38.119 0.431/0.280 Q2
4 44 Pol ESPARGARO ESP Repsol Honda Team Honda 1:38.165 0.477/0.046 Q2
5 12 Maverick VIÑALES ESP Aprilia Racing Aprilia 1:38.196 0.508/0.031 Q2
6 20 Fabio QUARTARARO FRA Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 1:38.281 0.593/0.085 Q2
7 42 Alex RINS ESP Team SUZUKI ECSTAR Suzuki 1:38.455 0.767/0.174 Q2
8 36 Joan MIR ESP Team SUZUKI ECSTAR Suzuki 1:38.516 0.828/0.061 Q2
9 5 Johann ZARCO FRA Pramac Racing Ducati 1:38.537 0.849/0.021 Q2
10 30 Takaaki NAKAGAMI JPN LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda 1:38.576 0.888/0.039 Q2
11 43 Jack MILLER AUS Ducati Lenovo Team Ducati 1:38.584 0.896/0.008 Q2
12 33 Brad BINDER RSA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 1:38.932 1.244/0.348 Q2
13 23 Enea BASTIANINI ITA Gresini Racing MotoGP Ducati 1:38.566 0.065 Q1
14 63 Francesco BAGNAIA ITA Ducati Lenovo Team Ducati 1:38.610 0.109/0.044 Q1
15 21 Franco MORBIDELLI ITA Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 1:38.805 0.304/0.195 Q1
16 88 Miguel OLIVEIRA POR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 1:38.871 0.370/0.066 Q1
17 72 Marco BEZZECCHI ITA Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati 1:38.877 0.376/0.006 Q1
18 04 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP Team Yamaha 1:38.938 0.437/0.061 Q1
19 73 Alex MARQUEZ ESP LCR Honda CASTROL Honda 1:39.095 0.594/0.157 Q1
20 49 Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO ITA Gresini Racing MotoGP Ducati 1:39.126 0.625/0.031 Q1
21 25 Raul FERNANDEZ ESP Tech3 KTM Factory Racing KTM 1:39.153 0.652/0.027 Q1
22 87 Remy GARDNER AUS Tech3 KTM Factory Racing KTM 1:39.159 0.658/0.006 Q1
23 40 Darryn BINDER RSA WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP Team Yamaha 1:39.380 0.879/0.221 Q1
24 6 Stefan BRADL GER Repsol Honda Team Honda 1:39.487 0.986/0.107 Q1

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