Jack produces a stunning lap on slicks to beat Pedrosa
Crazy conditions and crazier courage took Jack Miller to an extraordinary first MotoGP pole position for tomorrow’s Argentine GP.
His Alma Pramac Ducati see-sawing and sliding on a half-wet track, trying everything to throw him off, the Australian risked everything while the likes of Marquez and Crutchlow threw in the towel at the same challenge, of using slick tyres on a half-wet track.
At the last gasp, after a monumental save on the previous lap, Miller snatched pole from Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) by less than two tenths of a second.
Earlier in a day hit by the worst possible conditions – neither fully wet nor fully dry – Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) had seemed utterly dominant, leading FP4 by better than a second. In the 15-miute final qualifying session, the defending champion was the first to risk fitting slick tyres, followed by LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow.
But both pulled in at the end of their out laps, fazed by standing water at two corners after the long back straight. Miller took the opposite view, encouraged by a wide dry line appearing on other parts of the track.
“It was a big gamble, but I remembered from when Pawi won the Moto3 race [in 2016, on slicks] how much grip this track has in the wet.
“The rest of the track was more or less dry, but turns seven and eight were so slippery,” he explained in jubilation. “You had to coast through. The lap before was probably faster, but I just touched the gas and she nearly threw me.”
Asked about his thoughts, he laughed. “My mother always said: you never listen. I guess the bike was telling me something, but I wasn’t listening.”
Miller won the Dutch TT two years ago in heavy rain, but today’s conditions were very different, and had already thrown up some surprises.
Marquez could do no better than sixth-fastest; while factory Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo couldn’t even make it out of the earlier Q1, when drying conditions saw him pushed from a safe second place to fourth, putting him 14th on the grid.
With Pedrosa a safe second, sticking with wet tyres but “pushing to the limit”; the third man on the front row was the ever-reliable Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha). He had also toyed with the idea of changing to slicks when he saw Miller had done so, but decided against. “He was right, but I don’t know if I could have done what he did on slicks.”
With Marquez on the far end of row two, he had been somewhat surprisingly beaten by two relative junior compatriots. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Ducati) followed up an unexpected third in the dry yesterday afternoon with fourth today. Second-year Ecstar Suzuki rider Alex Rins was fifth.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) had taken advantage of improving conditions to take top time in Q1 at the last gasp, and now led row three from Qatar winner Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), also through from Q1.
The factory Movistar Yamahas were ninth and eleventh, with Maverick Vinales completing row three, and Rossi in the middle of the fourth after running off the track in Q2. He had a disappointed Crutchlow alongside, and also 12th-fastest Andrea Iannone (Ecstar Suzuki).
Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Ducati) also pushed past Lorenzo at the end of Q1 to take 13th, with Scott Redding (Aprilia) alongside, and Pol Espargaro’s KTM heading row five from unexpected top rookie Xavier Simeon (Avintia Ducati) and an off-form wet specialist Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati).
Moto2 qualifying was set alight, in spite of increasingly heavy rain in the closing minutes, by a stunning pole-snatching lap by Xavi Vierge. As with Miller, it was his first time.
Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40 Kalex) had seemed safe, after setting best lap on his fourth tour, before the weather got worse. But the Spanish Dynavolt Kalex rider laid on a breathtaking display of brinkmanship on the now sodden surface, to take his first pole by less than three tenths.
It was a climax to a session that saw some big names struggling, and brought forth other unexpected heroes.
Among them returned ex-Moto3 champion Danny Kent (Speed Up), on the front row in third; Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Kalex) forging through to fifth, to start between fourth-fastest Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex) and returnee Sam Lowes (SII KTM).
Another strong showing from Remy Gardner (Tech 3), fastest in the wet FP3, put him ninth, on row three next to title contenders Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and Alex Marquez (Kalex); while American rookie Joe Roberts (NTS) also impressed in the wet, qualifying tenth.
Qatar winner Pecco Bagnaia (Kalex) was languishing in 15th, one place ahead of Brad Binder (KTM).
Seventeen-year-old Italian Toni Arbolino timed it perfectly in Moto3 to make it three maiden pole-sitters. With the session run on slick tyres but with damp patches and a constant threat of light showers, the Marinelli Snipers Honda rider set a lap five seconds slower than the record with 13 minutes to go. Directly thereafter, a light shower meant his top slot was safe.
“I saw the rain on my helmet, and I decided – push, push.”
Unusually, he was joined on the front row by two KTMs, but then a block of Hondas made it seven of the dominant Japanese bikes in the top ten.
Marco Bezzecchi (Redox KTM) was displaced by Arbolino, but stayed second; Argentine rider Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA KTM) pleased the highly vocal home fans by completing the front row, though more than half-a-second off Arbolino’s time.
Row two had three Hondas, with Norrodin heading Bastianini and Di Giannantonio; and the third another trio, with Antonelli heading title contenders Canet and frequent pole-sitter Martin.
Migno (KTM) completed the top ten.