Zarco sets new lap record in practice for Austrian MotoGP

Spielberg (Austria) (AFP) –


Championship challenger Johann Zarco was quickest in practice for the Austrian MotoGP on Friday, setting a new lap record during the morning session at the Red Bull Ring.

The afternoon times, which are usually quicker than the morning, were slower as a downpour meant the riders had to negotiate a drying track for most of the session.

As the pit lane still buzzed with the news of Yamaha's suspension of Maverick Vinales on Thursday, Ducati-Pramac rider Zarco, who is second in the championship race, was in thrilling form on the track.

The Frenchman's 1min 22.827secs was 0.798s faster than second-placed Joan Mir whose Suzuki teammate Alex Rins rounded out the top three.

"We shouldn't be too happy because it's only Friday, but this gives us confidence to prepare for Sunday," said 31-year-old Zarco, who is still searching for his first win in MotoGP.

"Mentally, I want to make a difference, try to go beyond a limit that I have built in my head, accept that I have a block somewhere and go on the attack, even if it's not yet perfect and I'm still pushing a little too much."

Fourth-fastest Takaaki Nakagami, on a Honda, was the only other rider to get within a second of Zarco.

Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro was the fifth-quickest in the morning.

World Championship leader Fabio Quartararo finished sixth.

The Frenchman, 40 points ahead of Zarco in the title race, is the lone Yamaha factory rider this weekend following the suspension of Vinales.

Yamaha said on Thursday that the Spaniard's actions in last weekend's Styrian GP "could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race."

Vinales struggled after last Sunday's race on the same track was restarted following an early crash. He was running last when he pulled into the pits on the final lap.

"It wasn't the best day," said Quartararo.

"I had good feelings in the morning in the dry but no confidence in the wet in the afternoon. I have no grip when entering the corners."

On Friday, with five minutes remaining of a wet afternoon session, Iker Lecuona (Tech-3 KTM) was the first to head out on slicks and set the fastest time.

His 1min 27.520s was 3.3s faster than Zarco's second place time in the session but almost five seconds behind the Frenchman's lap record in the morning.

The riders have a third practice session on Saturday morning followed by qualifying at 1210 GMT.

Best times from Friday practice

1. Johann Zarco (FRA/Ducati-Pramac) 1min 22.827secs, 2. Joan Mir (ESP/Suzuki) at 0.798, 3. Alex Rins (ESP/Suzuki) 0.903, 4. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN/Honda-LCR) 0.963, 5. Aleix Espargaro (ESP/Aprilia) 1.014, 6. Fabio Quartararo (FRA/Yamaha) 1.038, 7. Alex Marquez (ESP/Honda-LCR) 1.054, 8. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA/Ducati) 1.076, 9. Marc Marquez (ESP/Honda) 1.140, 10. Jorge Martin (ESP/Ducati-Pramac) 1.21


14. Valentino Rossi (ITA/Yamaha-SRT) at 1.508