Factory Honda rider Pit Beirer ended Mickael Pichon's run of seven consecutive 250cc pole positions by clocking the fastest time yesterday in Genk for the Grand Prix of Belgium.
It was an afternoon when the weather was as much a focal point of the show as the riders themselves. Tricky track conditions meant one qualification session was held in warm sunshine while another faced potential flooding. Luckily for the 250cc riders, their 30-minute period was bright, and the Belgian terrain soft and grippy.
World Champion Pichon had close company from the outset, with Fred Bolley and Pit Beirer trading top-three positions. The Suzuki rider notched the quickest lap inside the first 10 minutes as usual, with the first sub-1:50 lap all day, although he didn't count on the resilience of Beirer, who had been getting faster and faster with each session. The German had recorded a time that placed him seventh in the first free practice but produced his best when it counted. Bolley, on a Yamaha, briefly held pole before Beirer secured his 1:48.1 with nine minutes to go and could then afford to watch Pichon desperately try to overthrow his effort as the clock ran down; the reigning number-one only managed a 1:48.5, taking second and leaving the Honda rider pleased with his pole-performance.
"The first practice, I used my sand settings on the bike and was far from happy," he said. "We made some changes for the second period, and things got better. By the time of qualifying, I had found my speed and rhythm; I was riding smooth and making clean jumps; everything fell into place.
"I was very pleased with my time because I was not over the limit, and I am even happier to have beaten Mickael. As we have seen this year, it's not easy to take pole positions away from him; sometimes he pushes the limit to try and get the best time, so it feels good to have ended his run, even if being the fastest does not carry a great deal of importance for the race.
"I love this sport so much, and I'll really be going for the podium tomorrow; I have missed out on the top three in the last few GPs, and now it's time to get a result."
Overall, it was a close session for the 250s; the top 10 were separated by just over three seconds. Kenneth Gundersen ended up relegating Bolley to fourth, while Josh Coppins was fifth, Jussi Vehvilainen sixth and Jamie Dobb seventh.
By the time the 500s took to the waiting zone, it had begun to rain heavily. After five minutes on the track, and when Stefan Everts had posted the quickest lap, the pit-lane was virtually full as the riders sheltered from the opening heavens and rumbling thunder.
The qualifying pretty much ended there, as the track deteriorated and nobody could improve the times they had managed before the flooding rain arrived and the hailstones plummeted from the skies. A few riders tentatively braved the conditions, but their efforts were fruitless. The early rapid times by Everts, then Joel Smets and Marnicq Bervoets in third, proved to be shrewd moves, as the top six spots were filled by unfamiliar faces such as Antti Pyrhonen, Stuart Flockhart and Karl Karlsson. The Belgian trio also gave the generous local crowd something to smile about under its umbrellas.
There were other Belgians producing the goods in the 125cc class, as Steve Ramon took pole position after being fastest in the timed session for the top 10 riders in the Championship. The factory KTM rider led a gaggle of Austrian machines, as the orange bikes filled the top six. Another local man, Patrick Caps, was third just after Philippe Dupasquier. Winner of the last race in Sweden, Ben Townley, was fourth in front of teammate Tyla Rattray. Championship leader Mickael Maschio was seventh on his Kawasaki. The top of the 125cc series currently has five riders all within nine points of each other, with only four races to go this season.
Ramon's teammates, Mark De Reuver and Erik Eggens, each won their respective qualifying heats, with Eggens in particular looking in fine form at his comeback GP after three months out through injury.