Local Hero Khairuddin Takes First Pole At Sepang

by Louis Suddaby

Zulfahmi Khairuddin waited for the perfect moment to claim his first ever pole position in Grand Prix racing, securing top spot in front of a delighted home crowd at Sepang, and on his 21st birthday. The KTM rider produced something of an upset to beat Jonas Folger into second place after the German had led all three practice sessions.

A morning shower towards the end of Moto2 free practice left the circuit damp in places, allowing the likes of Danny Webb and Efren Vazquez to hold provisional pole while the big hitters waited for grip levels to improve. Folger took eighteen minutes to complete a flying lap but when he did so, the Aspar rider immediately overtook Vazquez by a full second.

Unsurprisingly, the times continued to tumble with Folger taking the pace from mid-2:16s to a 2:14.334 but he wasn’t enjoying the same level of dominance as free practice with Khairuddin just 0.023s back. With two minutes remaining, the dream started to become a reality for the home favourite as a 2:14.109 moved him into provisional pole despite an improvement from Folger. Championship leader Sandro Cortese had also moved into the 2:14s but couldn’t match the pair ahead of him, setting up a straight fight for pole in the dying seconds.

Khairuddin had timed his run perfectly and would be one of the last riders to take the chequered flag, although he’d improved anyway to a 2:13.885 before doing so. Folger, by contrast, was one of the first riders to conclude his session and a 2:15.458 was all he could manage, triggering an eruption of cheers from the grandstands.

Khairuddin didn’t need the extra lap he’d saved himself and understandably soaked up the adulation of his countrymen before being greeted by a jubilant AirAsia-Sic-Ajo crew on his return to the garage. KTM teammate Sandro Cortese also offered his congratulations, clearly satisfied with third given Maverick Vinales’ dramatic walk-out on Friday.

Louis Rossi will head the second row after qualifying fourth while Luis Salom, the only rider capable of denying Cortese the championship on Sunday, fifth fastest. The Spaniard will drop to tenth on the grid though as punishment for taking out Folger on the final lap in Japan last weekend, promoting Miguel Oliveira and Efren Vazquez to the second row.

As a result of his teammate’s punishment, Brad Binder will be the leading RW Racing rider in a career-best seventh with Alex Rins and Adrian Martin separating him from his teammate. Danny Kent struggled for pace throughout and will have to make do with eleventh with Danny Webb and John McPhee together in 25th and 26th respectively.

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