Pol Espargaro on European MotoGP pole

Valencia (Spain) (AFP) –


KTM rider Pol Espargaro will start from pole for Sunday's European MotoGP after setting the fastest time in tricky conditions in Saturday qualifying at Valencia.

His fellow Spaniard Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Japan's Takaaki Nakagami (Honda-LCR) join him on the front row.

"In the last lap I said to myself 'it's all or nothing' and even if it was difficult I did it," said Espargaro who came through on top on a wet track that proved extremely awkward for the riders.

It is his second pole position of the season, following the Styrian GP in Austria. He set a fastest lap there as well but failed to win the race, finishing third behind Miguel Oliveira and Jack Miller.

Championship leader Joan Mir, who like Espargaro has never won in the premier division, will start from the second row.

Mir leads Fabio Quartararo by 14 points but only 32 points separate the top six after a roller-coaster season truncated by the coronavirus and thrown wide open by the absence of six-time world champion Marc Marquez.

Placed third in the championship is Maverick Vinales who starts Sunday's race from the pits as punishment over the number of engine changes on his Yamaha.

Valentino Rossi, who missed the last two races and Friday's practise sessions after testing positive for coronavirus, was back in the saddle on Saturday but could only finish eighth in Q1 and failed to progress to the final shootout in Q2.

Vinales ended 15th fastest overall while Rossi was 18th.

"I felt good on the bike today, without any problems," said seven-time MotoGP world champion Rossi.

"Fortunately, while I was in quarantine I felt always good, only two days were bad, and after it was okay. But anyway, it was difficult because I had to stay home alone for 24 days and it was boring.

"And now, after three weeks, I'm back, and I'm very happy about this. Not riding these last few weeks was not a big problem, but missing FP1 and FP2 is not easy, and also the conditions this afternoon were difficult."

Quartararo, who has three wins this season, was only 11th in qualifying.

"We have tried many things with the bike in the wet conditions this weekend, to try to understand where we can improve and find some more speed," he said.

"At the beginning of the session we had a similar pace to those around us, but as the laps continued we didn't make the step that we wanted to.

"Unfortunately everyone seemed to improve at the end of the session, but we were 11th. We need to analyse the data to try to understand why, but I am hoping for better weather tomorrow."