Maverick Vinales will start from pole position for the second race in a row and for the fifth time in 2017 after an action-packed qualifying session in Aragon.
With Friday’s washout mostly forgotten, the riders had a tough job squeezing in two days worth of work into one as they worked on setup, tyres and grid position. Thankfully qualifying was warm, sunny and dry with perfect conditions for the shootout.
With everyone except Johann Zarco (who went soft-soft) running medium front and soft rear tyres, 15 minutes of madness awaited them. After the first flying laps, it was Jorge Lorenzo at the top of the times before he was replaced by Marc Marquez with the first 1’47 lap of the weekend.
First runs done and the World Champion was still on top, on paper Marquez was the favourite for pole, especially as he’d secured it for the last 4 years and that seemed to be playing out on track. Everyone filtered into the pits for a quick change of tyres, a drink and a look at the times, before they were back out for their final push.
But this is MotoGP and there’s always another surprise waiting just around the corner, as it turns out, this time there were two. As Valentino Rossi stormed around the Motorland Aragon circuit, Marquez hit the floor at turn 12, crashing out of the session and his hunt for a 7th pole this year. As the joint-Championship leader walked away, Rossi crossed the line to take over at the top of the times.
The Italian’s lead didn’t last long as his team-mate Maverick Vinales went 0.3 seconds quicker, which ultimately proved to be enough for pole with a 1’47.635. Jorge Lorenzo came close and secured second for his third front row start of 2017, while Rossi completed the top 3 in third.
For the Yamaha team-mates, it was close to perfect; Vinales had struggled in wet conditions on Friday but with a few setup changes he felt much better in the dry and after building on strong finishes in both FP3 and FP4, the soft rear, which he’d like to race if possible, took him to the top of the times. Compare the Maverick of Friday to the one after qualifying and you’d think they were completely different people. A bit of sunshine really can change everything.
For Rossi, it was a continuation of his brilliant comeback after breaking his leg just 23 days ago. In the wet, he was able to ride without too much pain but the question mark over how he’d feel in the dry remained. He put in good times in both practice sessions and tried the hard rear in FP4, before pulling out all the stops in qualifying. Every day sees improvements for the Italian and starting from the front row gives him the best possible chance to avoid too many issues in the race.
It can be easy for some people to draw comparisons to other injuries, favourably or otherwise. Yes, Lorenzo rode less than 48 hours after breaking his collarbone, yes Marquez started 2014 with a broken leg and Dani Pedrosa has had so many injuries you’d need an abacus to count them. All riders hurt themselves, either on track or off, it’s an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of being a MotoGP rider. But every rider, every injury, every recovery is different and to compare them is to do every injured rider an injustice. One person’s comeback does not lessen the magnitude of another’s. In this case, Valentino Rossi has come back 22 days after surgery on a double leg break to take a front row in qualifying at a difficult circuit. The physical and mental determination to do that is nothing short of incredible.
Completing the first row for the Aragon Grand Prix is Jorge Lorenzo, sandwiched between two Yamahas that were once familiar territory. FP3 was a tricky session after a strong wet performance, with the Spaniard just needing a bit more time to find a comfortable setup in the different conditions. While going through Q1 is normally a disadvantage, Lorenzo said that today the extra track time actually helped him, and with his history of blistering starts the other riders will be hoping he doesn’t tear off in front of them.
The second row is an all Honda affair, with Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa all lining up next to each other. Marquez will undoubtedly be one to watch in the race, his crash in qualifying will only make him more motivated (if that’s possible), while Pedrosa has shown excellent pace and definitely has podium potential.
Joint-leader Andrea Dovizioso starts the third row in 7th. Dovi hasn’t been quite where you’d expect him to be so far this weekend, but he’ll undoubtedly still be a strong contender tomorrow. Joining him on row 3 are Aleix Espargaro who’s had a good start in Aragon and Alvaro Bautista who crashed out at the end of qualifying.
Rounding out the top 12 on row 4 are Andrea Iannone who seemed to be slightly more comfortable today, Johann Zarco who wasn’t able to capitalise on his soft front & rear choice and Mika Kallio who had been very impressive in the morning session but was another crasher in Q2.
For the race, everything is a question. Tyre life? Tyre choice? Race pace? Losing two sessions on Friday means that morning warmup is going to be a vital 20 minutes as the riders hope to find some answers.
Vinales has the potential to take his first win since France, Marquez shouldn’t have too much trouble getting to the front, Lorenzo could make a great start work wonders and Pedrosa and Dovizioso can’t be forgotten. Rossi will have a long 23 laps ahead of him but never say never when it comes to the 9 times World Champion, just finishing the race in the points would be a good result but starting from third gives him the chance of something more.
Will there be another championship shift? Will it be closer or tighter? 5 rounds to go, everything still to fight for and the Aragon Grand Prix promises to be another fantastic MotoGP race.