Aleix Espargaro claimed his best MotoGP qualifying since 2017 with a surprise fifth on the grid for Aprilia at Aragon.

Just a week after expressing frustration over a lack of new parts for the RS-GP, Espargaro hung on to a tow from world champion Marc Marquez to deliver his best qualifying result since fourth at Motegi in 2017.

"I was already quite fast on my first run, then with the second tyre I was behind Maverick but just before we started the last lap Marquez overtook me," Espargaro said.

"I thought 'there's no way to follow him' because he's on another planet this weekend. But I was able to follow. I did a perfect lap. I lost quite a lot in the straight, where he had a lot of traction and acceleration, but apart from that seven-tenths from pole position and a '47.7 is something for us to be proud of."

Quizzed on what he had seen behind Marquez, Espargaro revealed the Repsol Honda rider was fast in unexpected places.

The normal assumption is that Marquez and the RCV are at their best under braking (albeit a trait that has been reduced with the 2019 bike) but Espargaro said the #93 was most impressive in terms of corner apex speed.

"The biggest difference was strange because I was expecting he would brake super-late, but when we arrived at the first corner he braked super-early and I almost hit him," Espargaro explained.

"I followed him and then before the downhill chicane he also braked a lot earlier than me.

"So it was strange because he braked not super-late, but before he arrived at the apex of the corner he released the front brake and when he leaned and put his body in a really low position, before touching the throttle, the corner speed he can carry is unbelievable.

"When you make this, you can prepare the acceleration a lot. Because when I'm stopping the bike going wide, he's already looking at the second part of the corner, to accelerate.

"So he carries a lot of corner speed and then he has a lot of traction.

"It's not super-difficult to ride like this, but also the bike has to allow it and the problem is when I go at that level I had a lot of chattering at the apex, because I went a lot faster than in the other sessions because I was following him.

"So it was a good lap to study."

Asked to explain his own surge in performance, Espargaro pointed to the amount of banked braking required at Aragon, which suits the RS-GP's front-heavy weight balance.

"Also my team-mate was strong in Qualifying 1. I think there is not a lot of acceleration, just one, then also there are no bumps here," Espargaro replied. "And where Andrea and myself suffer a lot is stopping the bike in a straight line.

"Every time we stop the bike completely straight up we suffer because we have no weight on the rear. The engine brake is not working enough, we have no contact [with the ground] so we cannot reduce the speed.

"But every time we brake with 25-30 degrees of lean angle, like almost every corner here, the rear tyre is pushing into the ground. So we have weight and we can stop the bike. I think this is one of the biggest differences to the other tracks."

With a best race finish of ninth this season, Espargaro now feels he has 'nothing to lose' in the race.

"Our season has been a disaster so far, so I hope that I can do a good race and the most important thing is when I came back to the garage all the faces of my team and the people around me were smiling, because we need some positive energy in the garage before the flyaway races.

"Everybody has been working hard but the results have not been there so it's not easy.

"It's difficult to understand [the pace] because we didn’t ride in the dry this morning but I think that nobody has a really strong pace apart from Marc. So if Marc disappears on lap one, I don’t think that the pace will be super high for the second group.

"I feel good with the bike. With the soft tyre I think we can do a good race. Last season the tyre degradation was higher than this year, so I'm confident. Half of the race will be the first lap. If I can be inside the top six after the first lap, why not finish inside the top six?"

Sixth is the best race finish for Aprilia in the four-stroke MotoGP era, achieved by Colin Edwards and then three-times by Espargaro, including the past two seasons at Aragon…

Injured team-mate Iannone qualified in eleventh place.

 

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