Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo claimed a sensational home celebration in the dying seconds of Le Mans MotoGP qualifying with his third pole in a row.
It was almost a full-Yamaha front row as Maverick Viñales and Franky Morbidelli claimed second and third before Ducati’s Jack Miller spoiled the party with a late effort to take third at the flag.
MotoGP qualifying began minutes after both Repsol Honda’s had found themselves down and out after FP4 crashes, the pair both having a little breathing space, however, after securing early entry to Q2 in Friday’s afternoon practice.
Pecco Bagnaia, Joan Mir and Aleix Espargaro were the biggest hitters facing a Q1 fight as the wet 15-minute session fired up, the recent rain abating again as the green lights illuminated but the clouds still loomed overhead.
Suzuki’s Mir and Alex Rins took charge as the first laps registered with Lorenzo Savadori falling at the final corner on his opening hot-lap - a quick jog down the pitlane for the Italian as he raced to get back for his second bike.
Tech3’s Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci sat third and fourth at the halfway stage, with Alex Marquez, Bagnaia and Tito Rabat heading Espargaro in the top-eight.
The Aprilia captain looked to fire a shot at promotion as the next lap unfolded before Rins dispatched his compatriot moments later. As the track dried the conditions continued to change, Espargaro once again setting his cap at the promotion zone as he claimed P1 with a 1’44.720, Mir sitting two-tenths back in second as Marquez demoted the second Suzuki for third place.
Petrucci was the next to upset the Hamamatsu squad as the Tech3 rider took control of second, Marquez’ turn six crash interrupting Mir and Bagnaia’s hot-lap flow due to the issued yellow flags.
The closing two minutes brought a frantic dash as the timing screens were ablaze of red. Mir was back in charge with a ’44 dead before rookies Luca Marini and Savadori swept to first in quick succession. The recovered Italian’s teammate was the next to rise as Aprilia locked out the promotion zone before Mir came through for second.
The rookies, however, were far from done as Savadori and Marini stole the show, advancing into the Q2 shootout and demoting Espargaro to 13th on Sunday’s grid. Suzuki’s frustration continued as Mir and Rins consolidated fourth and fifth with Bagnaia facing a lacklustre 16th place start for tomorrow’s contest.
Q2 kicked off with a gamble for the Petronas riders as Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi headed out on soft slick tyres, the majority of the field choosing medium wets with Savadori remaining in the pits as his team frantically prepared his only surviving machine. The gamble seemed to be the right call as a number of riders immediately returned for the dry set-up but it was Johann Zarco who set the opening time of the session - a 1.39.715 - on wets. Both Petronas riders failed to better it as they took second and third with Rossi sitting on the brink of pole on his next attempt before losing it at the final corner.
Miller hit the front with a 1’35.472 from Pol Espargaro and Quartararo as the rain began to threaten once again. Morbidelli stealing third before his fellow Yamaha demoted him back to fourth with the duo repeatedly swapping positions on the next two laps.
Espargaro took provisional pole with five minutes to go, 1’33.150 now the time to beat as Miller and Marc Marquez joined him on the front row. Takaaki Nakagami united the flying Hondas in fourth with Zarco and Savadori behind before the Frenchman advanced once again.
Morbidelli was up to second two minutes later before the trio of Honda’s displaced him to fourth. Marquez leading Nakagami and Espargaro for front-row-glory as Miguel Oliveira crashed out, from eighth, and the rain looked to fall.
The final efforts saw Viñales crush the Honda hearts as he swept through to pole, Morbidelli taking second before Quartararo outmanoeuvred them both to take a home celebration and his third pole in a succession with a 1’32.600.
Miller denied a full-Yamaha front row as he demoted Morbidelli for third in the closing seconds with Zarco and Marquez ending the session fifth and sixth. Nakagami, Espargaro and Rossi sat seventh to ninth with Oliveira, Savadori and Marini completing the top-12.