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Under the bright Spanish sun, Dani Pedrosa secured a brilliant pole position, narrowly ahead of his team-mate Marc Marquez in second, with Cal Crutchlow rounding out the front row in third.
Having led the first three practice sessions of the weekend Pedrosa is obviously in fine form as MotoGP returns to Europe. Today’s pole position is his first since Sepang in 2015 (where he stormed away and took a dominating win) and his first front row start since Barcelona last season.
The Little Samurai had marked out qualifying as one of the key areas to improve in this year and he was delighted to have secured an elusive pole saying it was “probably one of the best poles of my career because it was a really hard battle.”
That battle mostly came from the World Champion Marc Marquez who initially led the qualifying session. On their final run, the two Repsol Honda riders exited together and with Marquez right behind him, Pedrosa knew that if he pushed for a fast lap there was a chance that it would benefit his team-mate and take pole position out of his hands… but the risk was one worth taking for the Spaniard and he secured top spot on his last lap with a gap of 0.049 seconds back to Marquez, who said that he’s been struggling slightly with pace for 1 fast lap in Jerez.
Despite usually being known as a “Yamaha track” Jerez’s higher temperatures and low grip levels played to the Honda’s advantages today, with Crutchlow making it a 1-2-3 for the Japanese manufacturer; the first since Sachsenring in 2014, despite the British rider having a large testing workload from Honda this weekend and being stung by a wasp that sneaked inside his leathers in qualifying.
For Pedrosa, the first two days of this race weekend have been a welcome return to form following a brilliant performance last time out in Austin. I’d expected him to be one to watch in Jerez, but Dani is well and truly back in business.
In the Yamaha garage, one of the main issues stemmed from the lack of grip, with both riders having issues in corner entry. Another problem is the tyres with Maverick Vinales (4th) explaining that “the right side of the tyre is really good, but when I go onto the left side I suddenly have a lot of wheelspin”. The cause for that is likely due to the asymmetric nature of the medium compound rear, which has a harder right side because of the higher number of right corners. The hard rear might not be the best option for them but the harder shoulder seems to perform better in the medium compound.
For team-mate Valentino Rossi, he wasn’t too disappointed with qualifying back in 7th because he feels his pace was good and they improved the feeling a lot throughout the day, but both riders will have work to do in warmup, especially with temperatures expected to be even higher tomorrow.
Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone put in a good performance to qualify in 5th, recovering from a difficult day yesterday, while Tech 3’s Johann Zarco secured 6th despite the track’s lack of grip.
Jorge Lorenzo is back on familiar soil at a track he knows and adores, combined with more time on the Ducati and further improvements he had an impressive day in Jerez, finishing second in FP3 and 4th in FP4. While 8th on the grid might not look particularly exciting, his pace has definitely improved; “overall today’s sensations were good and for the first time this season I had a pace that was similar to those riders ahead of me.” Despite complaining of a lack of rear grip that caused corner exit acceleration to suffer, Jorge was pleased with the day’s work “today was one of the best days I’ve had this season from every point of view.”
Unfortunately for his Ducati team-mate things weren’t so positive for Andrea Dovizioso who has been struggling in Jerez, particularly on 1 lap pace. But his grid position of 14th doesn’t reflect the race pace that he showed in FP4 so he’ll undoubtedly be able to move through into higher positions tomorrow.
Aleix Espargaro (12th) again impressed on the Aprilia showing good pace, but is struggling with the front end stability, saying he’s too close to the limit in braking. While KTM’s new “Big Bang” engine has definitely brought their riders closer to the pack, with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith qualifying in 15th and 16th respectively, and Pol making it into the top 10 in a couple of sessions this weekend.
Tomorrow will ultimately come down to tyres and who can make them last. The Jerez track is low grip but when temperatures rise (and they will tomorrow) it becomes surprisingly abrasive despite being slippery. The hard tyre could give Marquez and Crutchlow an edge towards the end of the race, but might take them away from the leading pack at the start, while the medium tyres favoured by Yamaha might not last the distance.
But when it comes to tyre management, few riders are as skilled as Dani Pedrosa and judging by his pace so far this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Samurai himself on the top step tomorrow.