Pol Espargaro has given himself the best possible chance of extending the championship fight by another week by taking pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix, beating Britain’s Scott Redding by four tenths of a second. Espargaro must finish ahead of Marc Marquez to keep his title hopes alive but will be wary of his Spanish rival who starts from the outside of the front row tomorrow.

Two of the three practice sessions had been disrupted by rain so it was no great surprise to see Espargaro’s benchmark from Friday morning beaten seven minutes into qualifying. Pol was the man to do so himself with a 2:07.815 but Marquez would take over as the early pacesetter with a 2:07.566. Provisional pole switched hands again seconds later as Scott Redding clocked a 2:07.399 on the Marc VDS Kalex. Bradley Smith put two British riders on the front two rows early on with the fourth quickest time, some achievement after breaking two toes after crashing on Friday afternoon.

Toni Elias wouldn’t be joining them at the front of the grid after a crash on his fourth lap of the afternoon, a far cry from his last Moto2 outing here where he clinched the 2010 title. Johann Zarco made no such mistake to take third twelve minutes in but Espargaro would demote him to fourth halfway through the session, leaping from fourth to first with a 2:07.039.

With hindsight, Espargaro needn’t have bothered going out again but the Pons Tuenti rider made absolutely sure of his sixth pole in 2012, breaking into the 2:06s bracket on his final lap. That gave him a four tenth advantage over Scott Redding despite a late improvement from the 19 year old but second was still a season’s best result in qualifying for Scott.

Takaaki Nakagami sneaked in front of Zarco to take an excellent fourth while Bradley Smith held on to a place on the second row despite setting his best lap time at the start of the session. Esteve Rabat leads the third row ahead of Thomas Luthi and Alex De Angelis with Dominique Aegerter rounding out the top ten, one place ahead of the off-form Andrea Iannone.

Iannone may not have been happy with his performance but few had a worse day than the Avintia Blusens squad. Having already seen their championship-challenging Moto3 rider walk out on them and a MotoGP rider pull out through injury, Julian Simon, their sole Moto2 entrant, crashed out a turn twelve in the closing stages, leaving him thirteenth on the grid.

Meanwhile, Gino Rea put in a solid performance on the Gresini Suter to qualify 22nd, two seconds behind Espargaro at the front.