Miguel Oliveira claimed the first pole position on his Grand Prix career and Mahindra’s first in Moto3 after a thrilling finish to qualifying at Assen. The Portuguese rider finished with an identical time to Alex Marquez, another rider chasing a first GP pole, but Oliveira’s second quickest time saw him clinch pole on countback.
Oliveira was the man to beat early on in the session after clocking a 1:44.184 five minutes in, taking advantage of some rare dry tarmac after the morning practice session had been washed out. Miguel maintained his lead for the best part of half an hour before the championship challengers came to life.
Series leader Luis Salom was the first to show with seven minutes remaining, breaking into the 1:43s on the Red Bull Ajo KTM, but Maverick Vinales and Jonas Folger were both circulating close behind him. Both would go faster than Salom’s initial benchmark but by the time they had done so, Luis had lowered the target time to a 1:43.671.
The turning point in the session came with four minutes to go as Salom got caught up in traffic at De Strubben. The Spaniard proceeded to outbrake himself into the left hander and had no option but to take to the gravel in order to avoid the riders ahead, losing the engine in the process. Lengthy efforts to bump start the bike proved to be in vain and the irate Salom could only stomp away.
His mood wouldn’t be helped when he returned to the garage as Oliveira regained pole in the final minute, getting down to a 1:43.588, and Salom’s championship rival Maverick Vinales would push in front as well with a time just six hundredths shy of pole.
The final sting in the tail would come from Alex Marquez, younger brother of Moto2 champion Marc, who pulled back a tenth in the final sector to match Oliveira’s time to the thousandth of a second. The 17 year old would miss out on a maiden Moto3 pole though as Oliveira’s next fastest lap, the one which had taken him to pole earlier on, would prove the difference maker, bringing delight to Miguel and his Indian manufacturer.
That late drama pushed Vinales back to third and Salom off the front row altogether where he will be joined by Alex Rins and Jonas Folger while row three will be made up by Niklas Ajo, Isaac Vinales and Arthur Sissis who claimed his best qualifying result of the season. His teammate Zulfahmi Khairuddin looks set to miss the race though following a crash in final practice which left him with a concussion.
The British riders didn’t enjoy the cool conditions in the Netherlands either with John McPhee 24th and Danny Webb 29th, his worst qualifying result since Valencia 2012.