Maverick Vinales carried his dominant free practice form into qualifying to secure pole position for tomorrow's Catalunya Grand Prix. The Avintia Blusens rider was seven tenths ahead of the competition this morning and although he didn't enjoy the same sort of advantage in the afternoon, he never looked under threat from the moment he took provisional pole halfway through the session.
The opening 20 minutes saw pole switch hands between several riders with Zulfahmi Khairuddin looking in particularly impressive form. The Malaysian was lapping in the mid 1m53s range but was quickly left behind by Louis Rossi who improved to a 1:53.360. JHK Laglisse's Efren Vazquez went fractionally faster just before the 20 minute mark while Khairuddin jumped back up to second but their fun was about to be seriously spoiled.
Vinales, who had been languishing in fourth place, turned the screw at the start of his second run, clocking a 1:53.085 and the Spaniard followed it with three successive laps which, although they slightly slower than his personal best, would still have been quick enough for provisional pole.
While the usual suspects fought it out at the front, a surprise challenger emerged in the form of Alexis Masbou on the Caretta Technology Honda. The French youngster closed to within six thousandths of Vinales but any hopes of overtaking the polesitter were dashed in the final five minutes when Vinales extended his lead by almost a second, effectively settling the argument.
Several riders, including Vinales, were running in a pack and all of them were moving forwards. Luis Salom leapt from the midfield into second while Louis Rossi and Hector Faubel followed him over the line to grab third and fourth. Further around the race track, the three Estrella Galicia 0,0 teammates were towing each other along and Miguel Oliveira took full advantage to take second, but as other riders joined them on circuit, things got too close for comfort.
With less than a minute to go, Oliveira ran into the back of Alexis Masbou's Honda before slamming into the helpless Brad Binder, taking them both into the gravel. Masbou stayed upright but he subsequently bounced into Alan Techer, who was also unseated.
Oliveira was unhurt but he lost his place on the front row as Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Louis Rossi overhauled him. Championship leader Sandro Cortese did likewise, demoting him to fifth, and the German's performance was impressive given the fact he was suffering from pain in his hand after crashing in morning practice.
The late drama dropped Salom to sixth and Masbou to seventh while Efren Vazquez ended up eighth despite holding provisional pole early on. Hector Faubel was the leading Bankia Aspar rider in ninth with Niccolo Antonelli rounding out the top ten for San Carlo Gresini.
Danny Kent was the leading Briton in fourteenth but the stand-out performance came from John McPhee who qualified one place further back. The Scottish wildcard got as high as ninth but fifteenth was still an outstanding achievement. On the other hand, Danny Webb's difficult season on the Mahindra continued as he qualified 31st.