27 June 2014
Assen MotoGP: Espargaro savours ‘fantastic’ debut pole
"I saw all the riders go together so I thought that it's going to be a disaster if I go with them" - Aleix Espargaro.
Aleix Espargaro made MotoGP history at Assen on Friday by becoming the first Open class rider to claim a pole position - and he did it by 1.4s!
The Forward Yamaha rider, who has never previously qualified on the front row, made the best of uncertainly generated by a rain shower at the start of the 15-minute Qualifying 2 pole shootout.
Reigning world champion Marc Marquez was first to hold pole position, but Espargaro had waited for a gap in the traffic then exploited his soft Open class rear tyre to the maximum to smash the Repsol Honda rider's best.
Increasing rain promptly confirmed Espargaro's pole and he will line-up at the front of Saturday's grid alongside Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
“I'm really happy. I felt really good in free practice and it's my favourite circuit, but to get pole is fantastic,” said Espargaro. “I know tomorrow is going to be really difficult but it is a small trophy for Forward Racing and me, because we are working really hard to stay close to the Factory guys.”
While most riders bolted out of pit lane in a big group to try and beat the weather, Espargaro held back slightly.
“I saw all the riders go together so I thought that it's going to be a disaster if I go with them. So I waited 20 seconds and went alone. It was perfect because it was like a race, a big group [in front] and nobody could push but I had a free track.
“I pushed at the maximum and took some risks because the track was slippery. Finally we did a good lap and then we had some luck because it continued raining and we got the first pole.”
Further unpredictable weather is expected for race and, despite rain playing into his hands in qualifying, Espargaro would prefer a dry grand prix.
“I would prefer dry, because in dry conditions we have really good pace. The last five minutes of qualifying was the first time I have ridden in the wet with the Magneti-Marelli [standard ECU] and it was better than I expected, but I still prefer dry.
“I know it's going to be really difficult to follow these two guys [Marquez and Pedrosa] and also Valentino and Jorge. But I will give my 100 percent. In Barcelona we finished quite close to the winner, Marc, so tomorrow we will try our best again.”
Should the race be dry, Espargaro is set to use the same specification soft rear tyre that he took to pole position.
“It's the first time this season that I've felt really good with the soft rear after ten laps,” he explained. “It depends a bit on track temperature, but I did 15 laps with both rear tyres and I felt the drop [in performance] is bigger with the harder tyre. I can manage the soft better. I'm quite confident, but I know the last laps will be tricky and that I'll be sliding a lot.”
Espargaro, head and shoulders clear of the other Open class competitors so far this year, took a career best race finish of fourth at Qatar this year. The Spaniard is seventh in the world championship and just four points behind younger brother Pol, riding for the Tech 3 Yamaha team.
The Open class replaced the former 'Claiming Rule Team' category, both seasons of which were also headed by Aleix, and allows concessions in terms of a softer rear tyre, more race fuel and engine changes, plus looser testing restrictions in return for using the standard ECU software.
Espargaro's machine is currently based on last year's satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, although team-mate Colin Edwards has switched to an FTR chassis. Edwards qualified 18th.
"It was a difficult day, I'm struggling a lot as I don't have the feeling with the front," said Edwards, who will retire at the end of this season. "I want to congratulate the whole team and it was great for Aleix getting the pole position. It's a shiny spot for everybody and I'm happy for the whole team."
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