Aleix Espargaro believes a change in approach was responsible for his joint best qualifying performance of the year at Assen, and feels he can fight among the top seven or eight riders in tomorrow’s Dutch MotoGP outing.

The Catalan qualified a strong seventh during Saturday’s Q2 qualifying shootout, a result that contrasts with his 19th place on the grid at his home round at Montmeló and the 21st two weeks before at Mugello.

“More than a good qualifying, [it's been] a good weekend,” began the Catalan. “We reset the goals before we started the weekend. We tried to approach the weekend a bit more relaxed and just enjoy fighting for less ambitious goals. It worked. I’m happy. Working more relaxed gave me more confidence.

“We did a really good pace this morning with yesterday’s soft rear tyre and we were able to go and do a 1m 34.5s. Then in the qualifying we did a really good lap – just two tenths from the pole position. It’s impressive. I’m satisfied and confident for tomorrow.”

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The Aprilia RS-GP was not so different to the one on which he struggled at Montmeló, Espargaro said, but a reduction in lofty ambitions and an acknowledgement that the project needs to “build more slowly” has been of benefit here.

“In the last races, especially in Barcelona, where I’ve always been very fast, I was very slow. I was struggling. I don’t think the bike was that bad in Barcelona. But I don’t think the bike was super good here. We need to find the balance. When in just seven rounds you have five zeros, this goes inside your head and it’s not good for the confidence of the rider, the confidence of the team.

“You’re all the time with more tension. We just need to relax. I maybe need to reduce my ambition, trying to build more slowly. But we have a good team. The bike is growing. I just need more confidence and to relax. I’m sure we can fight for the top eight in every race.”

On the tight Q2 session, which saw Espargaro lap the 2.8-mile TT Assen Circuit in 1m 33.029s – just 0.238s off pole sitter Marc Marquez – he explained: “You know, it was super windy. It was clear that if you were behind somebody or in a group, it was a lot easier. To change the direction was a lot easier.

“Then Assen is a track where it’s not difficult to follow. So everybody knows this. Every qualifying is the same. I was pushing in the last lap. Everybody was in front of me. I was behind Valentino. Everybody closed. It was like when the first one closed [the throttle], the second closed, the third closed. Valentino and myself we closed the same.

“Then we all realised it was two minutes until the end. Everybody pushed and the times we did on the last lap were unbelievable. The top eight were all in the 1m 33.0s. With the conditions we had today that’s insane.”

And what of tomorrow’s race? “Everybody is super similar. A mistake in FP4, I crashed. But this morning in FP3 with a used tyre, I put a couple of laps in the 34.5s. But everybody was able to do laps in the 34.3s, 34.4s. So I’m very happy to start in seventh place. If I can do a good start tomorrow, I can go with them.

“Marc and I think Valentino is very strong here every Sunday at Assen, they have a little bit more. But the rest are a big group. I think we can see a very big group here tomorrow at Assen.”

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