Spielberg, Aug 22: Pol Espargaro will be hoping to convert a maiden MotoGP pole into a first race win at the Styrian Grand Prix.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Espargaro was unable to hold on for a maiden victory in the premier class in an electrifying first race in Spielberg last weekend.
There could be more drama in the offing with the title race blown wide open by news that reigning champion Marc Marquez will be out of commission for another two to three months.
Espargaro will team up with Marquez at Repsol Honda next season, meaning the stage is set for the 29-year-old to show his future team exactly what he can do.
WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING
After claiming their first MotoGP win through Brad Binder at the Czech Republic Grand Prix, Austrian manufacturers KTM got their maiden pole in the premier class on their home circuit courtesy of Espargaro.
Johann Zarco, who had scaphoid surgery on Wednesday, was third-quickest in Q2 but will start the race from the pitlane after being punished for "irresponsible riding" in his crash with Franco Morbidelli last week.
Championship leader Fabio Quartararo was unable to extend his run of consecutive front-row starts to 12 and will begin from ninth, while Valentino Rossi was down in 14th after sliding out on his final lap in Q1.
THE STARTING GRID
1. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), 2. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda), 3. Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar) 4. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), 5. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha), 6. Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) 7. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), 8. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), 9. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 10. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha), 11. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati), 12. Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) 13. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), 14. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha), 15. Michele Pirro (Pramac Racing) 16. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda), 17. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), 18. Bradley Smith (Aprilia) 19. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia), 20. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda), 21. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) 22. Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing)* *Starting the race from the pitlane
STYRIAN GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS
The extended spell out for Marquez means the race offers other contenders a chance to improve their place among the favourites to finish the season at the top of the standings.
Espargaro led the Austrian Grand Prix at the restart after it was red flagged following Zarco's crash with Morbidelli, but tyre issues and a collision with Miguel Oliveira ended his hopes of victory. The KTM stablemates have continued to argue about where the blame for that incident sits, and it carried over to FP3 on Saturday.
Ducati have won the past five races held at the Red Bull Ring, with Dovizioso, who triumphed last weekend, on the podium on each of those occasions.
The factory team will need a strong start to be in contention once more, while Pramac Racing's Jack Miller is set to race through a shoulder injury following a crash in FP3.
WHAT THE RIDERS SAID
Pol Espargaro (pole): "It's super important here to start in the first two rows and its super important to be at the end of the second straight, so after the third corner, in front of the Ducatis because if not it's super difficult to overtake them. It was important to start on the first two rows, as we did last weekend. P1 for sure is amazing, but we need to make a clean race and finally see the chequered flag. If we do that, we're going to be in a good place.
Takaaki Nakagami (2nd): "This is my first time on the first row, this is an amazing feeling. We are trying to keep calm and prepare for the race because it's a completely different story. For the race pace we are quite good, of course there are maybe small details we can improve. In this moment we can fight for the podium and I really want to get the podium and this is the main target."
Johann Zarco (pitlane): "I got less pain than what I expected and when I did the first laps this morning I said, 'Okay, that's great, I have some pain but it's under control'. I missed FP4 to rest myself because the wrist is not the best thing to push a lot, but then I had to do the Q1 and the lap time came pretty well. In Q2 I managed well only on one lap but it was enough. I think I've learned a lot, so thanks to the team."
Joan Mir (3rd): "Over this weekend so far we've managed to improve everything a little bit compared with last weekend. It's really important at this track to start on the front two rows, so I'm pleased that I managed that, especially as my time was so close to the top. I feel great and I know I have the pace to fight at the front, so let's see how tomorrow goes."
Valentino Rossi (14th): "Starting from 14th on the grid will be hard, but my race pace is not so bad, I'm quite fast and consistent. I think there are four or five riders that are faster, but we are up there with the others. This is not our best track, it's difficult here with the Yamaha, but the pace is not so bad, I'm quite strong. The race is long. We have to do everything well, trying the maximum from the beginning of the race."
1. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha) 67 2. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) 56 3. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) 48 4. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) 41 5. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha) 38
1. Petronas Yamaha 98 2. Monster Energy Yamaha 86 3. Ducati 76 4. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 60 5. Suzuki Ecstar 50
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