Photography by Gold & Goose
It was intense. Rain was beginning to fall, lightly at first, the track was still dry enough for fast times and on the first flying lap it was Aleix Espargaro, who gritted his teeth and bravely rode through the raindrops on his NGM Forward Racing Yamaha to set the fastest time with a 1:38.789 to go to the top of the charts. With that rain started coming down harder and no one was able to respond. The end result was Espargaro had earned his first-career MotoGP pole.
Espargaro’s time incredibly was 1.405 seconds faster than the second fastest time turned in by Marc Marquez. Dani Pedrosa rounds out the front row for Saturday’s Dutch TT. Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith make up the second row.
Some big names were caught out by the rain, most notably Yamaha factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and last year’s race winner Valentino Rossi, who will start ninth and 12th respectively.
It was an unusual and thrilling Q2 session with rain starting to come down lightly, yet the track still largely dry. The riders, all on slicks, were desperate to get out and try to establish a fast time early and most of the field was bunched up. As a result it looked more like the start of a race than a qualifying session.
Marquez shot to the front of the group on the first fast lap with some daring passes, but it was Aleix Espargaro who bravely clocked the fast time with a perfect strategy of laying back to get a clear run.
It not only marked the first MotoGP pole for the 24-year-old Espargaro, but also the first for NGM Forward Racing.
“I’m really happy because we were waiting for the first pole since Qatar, where I did two crashes,” Espargaro said. “So I’m really happy. It was really a strange qualifying. I let everybody go and I find my space on the track because were 11 riders together. I was lucky to get one free lap and then I was really lucky because it continued rain and nobody can improve the time. I’m really happy and I think tomorrow is going to be a fun day because we have really good pace. I think we can stay, at least a couple of laps, with the top guys. It would be really good for us.”
The weather forecast is questionable for Saturday so the race could be an entertaining round.
To show how much of a multi-tasker Marquez is, he was riding in the rain, passing three and four riders at a time going into turns and monitoring the timing screens all at the same time.
“Yes of course in this qualifying session it was quite dangerous,” Marquez said. “You can lose many things and just my strategy was to finish on the front row. When I saw on the first lap that I did quite a good lap, not so bad with many traffic. I did a good lap and saw that I was first or second on the screen and I say ‘OK, I will not push more.’ My target was that and it was already there. Tomorrow will be a great race. We hope dry conditions, because it would be nicer, but if it’s wet it will be really, really interesting.”
Americans Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden qualified 18th and 22nd, Hayden obviously still experiencing issues with his wrist.
Qualifying results from the Dutch TT at Assen, June 27, 2014
1. Aleix Espargaro ESP NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 1m 38.789s [Lap 2/7] 299km/h
2. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 40.194s +1.405s [2/7] 289km/h
3. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 1m 40.732s +1.943s [3/8] 302km/h
4. Andrea Iannone ITA Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) 1m 40.786s +1.997s [2/7] 290km/h
5. Cal Crutchlow GBR Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 1m 40.796s +2.007s [2/6] 291km/h
6. Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 40.818s +2.029s [3/4] 296km/h
7. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (Desmosedici) 1m 41.140s +2.351s [3/7] 296km/h
8. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 1m 41.982s +3.193s [3/8] 277km/h
9. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 1m 42.259s +3.470s [3/8] 297km/h
10. Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) 1m 42.884s +4.095s [3/6] 289km/h
11. Pol Espargaro ESP Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 1m 43.085s +4.296s [2/6] 300km/h
12. Valentino Rossi ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (YZR-M1) 1m 43.625s +4.836s [2/8] 299km/h
13. Karel Abraham CZE Cardion AB Motoracing (RCV1000R) 1m 34.907s
14. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) 1m 34.930s
15. Yonny Hernandez COL Pramac Racing (Desmosedici) 1m 35.056s
16. Scott Redding GBR Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RCV1000R) 1m 35.059s
17. Danilo Petrucci ITA IodaRacing Project (ART) 1m 35.346s
18. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (Forward Yamaha) 1m 35.484s
19. Broc Parkes AUS Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 1m 35.513s
20. Hector Barbera ESP Avintia Racing (Avintia) 1m 35.631s
21. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART) 1m 35.731s
22. Nicky Hayden USA Drive M7 Aspar (RCV1000R) 1m 35.792s
23. Mike Di Meglio FRA Avintia Racing (Avintia) 1m 35.980s