Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) claimed an unbelievable first pole position since the 2018 Malaysian GP in a stunning MotoGP™ Q2 at the Monster Energy Czech Republic Grand Prix. Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) will start second after crashing on his final flying lap, with his teammate Franco Morbidelli lining up on the outside of the front row.
Before Q2 got underway, there was plenty to talk about in Q1. There may be some happy Ducati personnel in and around the Esponsorama Racing box, but it won’t be the same on either Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) or Jack Miller’s (Pramac Racing) side of the garages. The duo were unable to make it out of Q1 and will start from a disappointing P18 and P14 respectively – work to do on Sunday for the Italian and Australian.
A handful of minutes later the first laps in the second qualifying session came flying in and it was Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) who crossed the line first with a 1:56.6, with teammate Valentino Rossi pretty much matching the Spaniard’s time to slot into P2 ahead of Morbidelli. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro then blitzed the lot of them to go provisional P1 with a 1:56.1 but the KTM star wouldn’t stay at the summit long, with Quartararo setting the first 1:55 of the weekend – a 1:55.990.
And hooked onto the tailpipes of the Championship leader was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). The Spaniard ran slightly wide at Turn 13 but managed to get a good banker lap in, but his second flying lap was even better. Quartararo a couple of bike lengths ahead was on a fast lap but didn’t quite go faster than his first lap, but Aleix Espargaro did and put himself into provisional P2.
Viñales was looking at getting onto the front row and the number 12 did exactly that on his next flyer, P3 for the man second in the Championship standings but there was going to be plenty to talk about in the upcoming final five minutes. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) went P6 on his opening fast lap but ahead of him on track were a gaggle of riders all setting red first sector times. Morbidelli, Rossi, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Zarco were all in close proximity, with the latter going faster than everyone. Halfway round, Morbidelli – spearheading the group – was under his teammates’ time by two tenths, but Zarco was three tenths up.
Coming across the line Morbidelli was unable to hold his advantage but Zarco did. The Frenchman flew to the top of the time screens to sit on an unreal provisional pole position, with Pol Espargaro going P2 with a stunning lap – however, that would later get chalked off due to the KTM rider setting it when passing yellow flags for Cal Crutchlow’s (LCR Honda Castrol) Turn 9 crash. However, it wasn’t done. Quartararo had one lap to try and grab his fifth consecutive pole position and giving his YZR-M1 a little tap coming up horsepower hill, you knew that this was going to be a pedal to the metal lap.
Quartararo was on a personal best lap but he was down by over a tenth of Zarco’s lap, 0.134 was the deficit halfway round. This was going to be close but Quartararo needed to find something in the final quarter of the lap and pushing, Quartararo found himself sliding into the gravel. El Diablo was down at the notorious Turn 13, unhurt, which meant pole position was Zarco’s. A truly magnificent effort from the number 05 rider as Ducati experience a day of ecstasy and disappointment in Brno.
Aleix Espargaro gave Aprilia their best-ever MotoGP™ qualifying in fourth as Spaniards fill the second row. Viñales encountered some sort of issue at the end of qualifying and couldn’t get back out in time for a final flying lap, so the title chaser had to settle for P5. But it could have been P6 if it wasn’t for Pol Espargaro’s lap time being cancelled. It was an unfortunate end to a fantastic session for the number 44, but P6 is by no means a disaster. Teammate Binder will front the third row of the grid in P7 a tenth and a half adrift of Pol Espargaro after coming through Q1 – benefitting from Takaaki Nakagami’s (LCR Honda Idemitdu) cancelled lap time – to lead Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in P8 and P9.
Rossi will be slightly disappointed with a P10 starting position after showing signs that he can mix it for the front row during practice, The Doctor is on Row 4 alongside Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Crutchlow. The latter duo are still riding with injuries sustained in Jerez, so P11 and P12 is a heroic effort from the Spaniard and British rider.
Well, what a breathless final few minutes of qualifying that was. Zarco is the man of the day for Ducati to seal his team’s first pole position in the premier class, and his sixth. Quartararo is a great position to pounce, Aprilia are back in the mix and what about Miller and Dovizioso… Sunday in Brno is going to be electrifying and qualifying proves you can’t safely predict anything in MotoGP™.