Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) will start tomorrow’s Argentine Grand Prix from the second row of the grid after qualifying fourth fastest today, just 0.046 seconds off the front row.
This is a unique round of the MotoGP World Championship, with practice getting underway today, following the cancellation of all Friday sessions, due to the late arrival of motorcycles and other team equipment. The freight had been delayed on its long plane journey from Indonesia, where the second round of the 2022 MotoGP series took place a fortnight ago.
Today was therefore very busy, with six practice sessions and six qualifying sessions for the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes taking place between 08:15 and 17:45. MotoGP riders got two one-hour free-practice sessions, following by the usual two 15-minute qualifying outings.
Espargaro had an up-and-down Saturday. A close third fastest in FP1, just behind the pace-setting Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), the 30-year-old Spaniard slid off during FP2, which left him outside the overall top ten, requiring him to take part in the Q1 qualifying session, alongside Nakagami.
The two RC213V riders dominated Q1, with Espargaro fastest and Nakagami second, separated by 0.022 seconds and both winning promotion to Q2.
Espargaro had only one soft rear tyre left for this vital session, so he decided to wait until the last five minutes to take to the track. Once out on the fast and flowing Termas circuit he quickly got up to full speed, scoring his best grid position of the year so far.
Nakagami will start the third race of the 21-event season from tenth place on the fourth row, missing row three by only 0.039 seconds. As usual, the grid is tightly packed, with just 0.888 seconds covering the fastest ten riders.
The 30-year-old from Chiba has had a complicated week. He tested positive for Covid several days ago and only tested negative just in time to fly to Argentina, arriving at the circuit this morning, lucky not to have missed any practice. Despite the stressful trip he was immediately up to speed, leading the way in FP1 and showing good pace throughout the day.
Team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) scored his first World Championship points of the year in the rain-lashed Indonesian GP at Mandalika two weeks ago and is aiming for his first dry-race points here, with good weather forecast for tomorrow.
The 25-year-old Spaniard was 19th overall at the end of the two free practice sessions, working hard with his crew to reduce the 1.3-second gap to the fastest rider. In qualifying the former Moto2 and Moto3 World Champion was ninth fastest in Q1, which means he repeated his 19th position in the overall qualifying classification. He is hoping that further improvements in morning warm-up will help him fight his way into the points-scoring positions.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) is absent this weekend due to a return of diplopia issues, which have hampered him recently, following a heavy fall during the race-day warm-up session at the Indonesian GP.
His place is taken by Honda Racing Corporation rider Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who has already done sterling service substituting for the 29-year-old Spaniard at previous races.
The 32-year-old German, contesting his first MotoGP weekend since last year’s penultimate race, the Algarve GP, Bradl set a respectable pace in practice and qualifying, just a few tenths slower than Marquez. He will start from 24th on the grid.
MotoGP’s hectic start to 2022 continues after tomorrow’s race with the paddock packing up quickly to begin the journey to the USA for next weekend’s Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Following four flyaway races – Qatar, Indonesia, Argentina and the US – the series returns to its European heartland for the Portuguese GP on April 24.