Whilst Friday was dry and FP3 on Saturday morning was distinctly wet for the MotoGP riders at the fifth round of the 2019 series in Le Mans, the qualifying session was run in dreadful conditions, with neither compound of wet tyre, nor any of the slick tyres, offering the perfect solution to the track conditions.
Surprisingly, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) made a gamble at the start of Q1 by going for slicks straight away, whilst everyone else went for wets. Whilst the Italian’s first laps were slow, he built temperature in his tyres, which brought confidence, and he managed to get himself through to Q2.
When everyone else went to slicks, they couldn’t build the temperature, nor the confidence, and so quickly went back to wets, which also failed to provide the grip they needed. That meant that it was Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who joined Rossi in advancing to Q2, after the satellite Yamaha riders was the fastest of the wet tyre runners in the first part of the session.
The conditions worsened for Q2. However, the difference was barely noticeable. This convinced all the Yamaha riders apart from Morbidelli to go out on slicks at the start of the session. This turned out to be a mistake and as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was setting his pole time, the Rossi, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) were busy swapping bikes.
The pole for Marquez came at a minor cost. The lap after he set pole, started well as he set the fastest sector one time of the session, but just a second later the Spaniard was on the floor. He didn’t come back to the pits, though, and continued circulating on his crashed bike, whilst getting nowhere near his fastest time to that point. It was a strange session, especially for Marquez, but his time in Q2 gave him his fifty-fifth pole position, which brings him level with Rossi on all-time premier class poles, and three behind Mick Doohan.
Second to Marquez was Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), who also set his time early on. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) did the same to qualify third, although like Marquez his session was tainted by a crash, this time for Miller at turn three. With two Ducatis equipped with the holeshot device starting on the front row tomorrow, alongside Marquez, getting to turn three first could be a challenge for the reigning World Champion.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) did important work for their respective championship bids in Q2, qualifying fourth and fifth, respectively, and thus giving them a decent shot at a good result tomorrow. Morbidelli will make row two an all-Italian affair.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) was another who suffered a crash, but still qualified seventh, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who completes row three.
Fabio Quartararo was visibly disappointed with qualifying tenth for his home GP, but not as disappointed as Maverick Vinales was to qualify eleventh after seeming to be the only rider who can challenge Marquez in Le Mans for much of the weekend. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completes the fourth row.
Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) was the fastest of the Q1 riders to miss out on Q2, and he will head up the fifth row, from home favourite Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL).
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) will start from sixteenth, ahead of Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). It was the first time this season that Mir has out-qualified his teammate, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), as the #42 – who lies just one point off the championship lead – qualified just nineteenth, and will be joined on the seventh row by Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech3). Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was the twenty-second and final qualifier.
Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol