A late charge from the Noale factory saw Espargaro hit the top ahead of Viñales with a stellar wildcard performance from the Little Samurai
The 2023 MotoGP™ season continued to surprise racing fans on Day 1 of the Gran Premio MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn de España, as an all-Spanish top four saw Aprilia Racing’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales snatch the top spots as the first day of their home Grand Prix came to a close.
All eyes were on Dani Pedrosa (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who threw up the biggest surprise of 2023 so far, as he sat at the top of the pile in P1 and brought home P3 overall on Day 1 of his wildcard appearance, securing a Q2 spot and a chance at pole position… with a host of big hitters failing to make the Q2 cut.
A touch of nostalgia in P1
No one predicted that it would be the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing wildcard of Dani Pedrosa who would draw first blood at the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix. The Little Samurai flew his way to the top of the pile in Friday morning’s practice session with an impressive 1:36.770, leaving fans speechless and making headlines on his return to the premier class.
A last-minute charge for Q2 honours
With track temperatures soaring in the afternoon, the track became much slicker than the morning and the pressure was on for the fastest motorcycle racers in the world with Qualifying 2 places up for grabs. As ever, the opening stages of P2 were used for fine-tuning race pace, and it wasn’t until the end of the session that we saw the soft rubber go in for the riders to put the hammer down for their final time attacks.
Iker Lecuona (Repsol Honda Team) crashed out of Practice 2 and with 36 minutes remaining the red flags came out forcing the riders to return the pits. Race runs had been tested and the riders took to the circuit once again as the green flag dropped. It was crunch time in MotoGP™ as the pressure was on to secure an automatic place in Q2.
Miguel Oliveria (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) was the first rider to improve with a minute and a half remaining as the Portuguese rider slotted himself into P4 with Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) following closely and putting himself into P5.
A flying lap from Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) came in just after, putting the Aussie into P3 and bumping Oliveria and Marquez back down the order. The two factory Aprilias were locked together and came flying over the line to reshuffle the order once again, knocking Miller down to P5 and demoting Oliveira and Marquez to 7th and 8th respectively.
All eyes on Q1
With only two Q2 spots up for grabs, a bunch of big hitters in Qualifying 1 sets the stage perfectly for a dramatic Q1 session on Saturday.
Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) crossed the line with just over a minute left of P2, but despite setting a personal best the Ducati top dog didn’t have enough in the tank for Qualifying 2, and finished the day in a disappointing 13th place. The Italian did get one more bite at the cherry but a yellow flag in sector 2 halted the progress for the number 1.
Marco Bezzecchi’s Mooney VR46 Racing Team Ducati went up in smoke with 25 minutes to go, which saw the championship leader pull to the side of the Dani Pedrosa corner and make his way back to the pitlane. Having jumped onto his 2nd bike, the young Italian pushed on but it wasn’t enough as the Championship leader only managed 12th place and will face Q1 on Saturday.
Friday’s action served as the perfect appetiser to competitive action in Jerez de La Frontera. The stage is set for Qualifying and the Tissot Sprint. Find out which way the pendulum will swing in Saturday’s action, and be sure not to miss any of the billing with Free Practice up first at 10:10 local time (GMT +1)!
1. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – 1:36.708
2. Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) – +0.002
3. Dani Pedrosa (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – +0.062
4. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) – +0.096
5. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – +0.127
6. Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) – +0.188
7. Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team) – +0.248
8. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – +0.333
9. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) – +0.336
10. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) – +0.345