Pol Espargaro extended his streak of pole positions with a dominant display on Saturday afternoon at Phillip Island. The Spaniard must win this weekend to have any chance of taking the title fight down to the wire and looks the favourite for victory, although Marc Marquez appears poised to wrap the championship up anyway from third on the grid.
Despite a small shower at the end of MotoGP qualifying, conditions were fine for the start of Moto2 and Espargaro stormed straight into the lead with a 1:34.388. As it turned out, the provisional pole sitter would never change before the end of the session with the only alterations coming behind, and in the margin of Pol’s lead.
Espargaro’s second run was particularly impressive with four flying laps each quicker than those before, and all four good enough for pole position. By the time Pol had returned to the Pons garage, he’d clocked a 1:33.705 to give him half a second in hand over Scott Redding who’d sneaked ahead of Marquez into second.
Even though twenty minutes still remained, the session seemed to have been brought to an early conclusion by yet more rain. That was certainly the case for Bradley Smith who lost the front end of his Tech 3 machine at turn eight before his motorcycle lost parts of bodywork in the gravel trap. QMMF’s Elena Rosell made a similar mistake moments later as the drizzle began to take its toll.
The Phillip Island weather was changing with such regularity that the sun was out again within minutes, giving the riders hope that improvements were still possible. Marc Marquez proved it with a 1:34.408 but that wasn’t enough to take him past Redding and he had to make do with third.
Thomas Luthi has the edge in the fight for third in the championship after qualifying on the front of the second row. The Swiss rider will have Takaaki Nakagami, the returning Randy Krummenacher and Johann Zarco between him and close rival Andrea Iannone on row three. Anthony West will start his home Grand Prix from ninth despite a late crash at the MG hairpin while Esteve Rabat rounds out the top ten on the second Pons Kalex.
Bradley Smith had been lying thirteenth before his crash but the rain shower limited the damage to his grid position. The Briton did drop a couple of places to fifteenth but still starts ahead of teammate Xavier Simeon. Gino Rea couldn’t build on a solid Friday though, qualifying a disappointing 24th. Two-time Phillip Island winner Alex De Angelis qualified just ahead in 22nd but his participation looks in doubt after he injured his hand in a nasty fall late on.