Aleix Espargaro timed his final lap to perfection to snatch pole position for the 2023 Spanish MotoGP as stormy conditions threw a curve ball into Q2 proceedings at Jerez.
The Aprilia Racing rider came into the Q2 session having set the fastest lap time of the weekend thus far in Friday Practice, but having already suffered a fall at Turn 12 in the immediate preceding FP3 session, came up against inclement weather conditions at Jerez too.
Indeed, with scorching conditions across the area all weekend, temperatures reached breaking point just as Q1 was ending and Q2 began when the heavens opened and light rain began to fall.
While still warm enough for slick tyres, with rain stopping mid-way through Q2, the session would evolve in the final stages, allowing those coming across the line last the advantage of the best conditions.
And so it would prove, with Espargaro powering round to set a 1m 37.216secs lap - around a second off the lap record and slower than riders in the preceding Q1 session, but good enough for his fifth career MotoGP pole position.
Always impressive in sketchy weather conditions, Jack Miller made himself the benchmark for much of the session as he wound up his pace, the Australian leading a strong KTM effort that also has Brad Binder up in fourth place and wild-card Dani Pedrosa in sixth.
Alongside Espargaro and Miller, Jorge Martin completed the front row as the best of a muted Ducati contingent, despite he too having come down heavily in FP3 earlier in the morning.
Having survived a high quality Q1 session to make it through to Q2, Binder equalled his best-ever starting position with fourth place, with championship contender Pecco Bagnaia - having also come via Q1 - saving a solid fifth on the grid, putting him well ahead of series leader Marco Bezzecchi, the Italian once again falling just short of making it into Q2 as he starts 13th.
Following his shock run to third overall on the Friday timesheets, Dani Pedrosa got remarkably close to causing another upset as the final rider to cross the line, though the now-retired wild-card was still good enough to secure a spot on the second row.
Though his preferred rain didn't keep falling as the session continued, Miguel Oliveira hauled the RNF Aprilia into a fine seventh place, ahead of Johann Zarco and Luca Marini.
Unable to match his team-mate's pace as he had on Friday, Maverick Vinales is left on the back foot in tenth, while Takaaki Nakagami was also left flagging in the change of conditions in 11th.
Having snatched pole position in turbulent weather conditions in Argentina, Alex Marquez attempted to do the same as he pounded round on the Gresini Ducati. However, despite regularly enjoying stints at the head of the timesheets as conditions improved, a strategic blunder to remain on track rather than pit for new rubber would see him plummet to 12th.
In addition to Bezzecchi, there was more Q1 misery for Fabio Quartararo. The Frenchman, who has started no lower than second in each of his four appearances on a MotoGP bike at Jerez, unable to break into Q2 en route to 16th as he was out-qualified by his team-mate Franco Morbidelli, who starts 14th.
Elsewhere, COTA winner Alex Rins returned to earth with a bump as he could only manage 18th on the grid for the two races.
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2023 Spanish MotoGP Qualifying Results | Jerez
|2023 Spanish MotoGP | Jerez, Spain | Qualifying Results | Round 4 of 20|
|1||Aleix Espargaro||ESP||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||1m 37.216|
|2||Jack Miller||AUS||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||1m 37.437|
|3||Jorge Martin||ESP||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||1m 37.458|
|4||Brad Binder||RSA||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||1m 37.532|
|5||Pecco Bagnaia||ITA||Ducati Leonovo Team||Ducati GP23||1m 37.557|
|6||Dani Pedrosa||ESP||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||1m 37.583|
|7||Miguel Oliveira||POR||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||1m 37.596|
|8||Johann Zarco||FRA||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||1m 37.616|
|9||Luca Marini||ITA||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||1m 37.666|
|10||Maverick Vinales||ESP||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||1m 37.765|
|11||Takaaki Nakagami||JPN||LCR Honda IDEMITSU||Honda RC213V||1m 37.876|
|12||Alex Marquez||ESP||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||1m 37.920|
|13||Marco Bezzecchi||ITA||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||1m 36.578|
|14||Franco Morbidelli||ITA||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||1m 36.793|
|15||Fabio di Giannantonio||ITA||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||1m 36.967|
|16||Fabio Quartararo||FRA||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||1m 37.072|
|17||Raul Fernandez||ESP||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||1m 37.164|
|18||Alex Rins||ESP||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V||1m 37.256|
|19||Stefan Bradl||GER||Team HRC||Honda RC213V||1m 37.297|
|20||Joan Mir||ESP||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||1m 37.346|
|21||Adrian Fernandez||ESP||GasGas Factory Tech 3||KTM RC16||1m 37.753|
|22||Jonas Folger||GER||GasGas Factory Tech 3||KTM RC16||1m 38.492|
|23||Iker Lecuona||ESP||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||1m 38.582|
|W||Enea Bastianini||ITA||Ducati Leonovo Team||Ducati GP23|