MotoGP World Championship Grand Prix 2014
Repsol Honda RC213V team-mates Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa will start tomorrow's Dutch TT from the front row of the grid, slotting into second and third positions early in a 15-minute qualifying session that was hit with rain that grew stronger before it was halfway done.
Both riders anticipated worsening conditions to gain a valuable asset for the start of tomorrow's race. For defending champion Marquez it preserves a perfect record of front-row starts at every race this year. For Pedrosa it underlines his return to competitive form after surgery earlier in the season.
Other riders fell foul of the tricky situation - with the factory Honda pair's greatest rivals suffering badly. The factory Yamaha pair of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi qualified down in ninth and 12th places respectively, on the third and fourth rows of the grid.
Marquez, already 125cc and Moto2 champion, became the youngest-ever premier-class champion at his first attempt last season, and in 2014 has won every race so far, breaking yet more records while building up a commanding lead on points. The 21-year-old Spaniard is now looking for a classic eighth win in a row, to be the first rider to win the opening eight rounds since Giacomo Agostini in 1970.
His second place on the grid reflects his position in free practice, with first-time pole qualifier Aleix Espargaro leading those sessions. In yesterday's dry conditions, all the fastest riders were travelling at new record speeds; rain struck this morning just as the final free practice started, and continued for the rest of the day.
Pedrosa spent two races off the front row while recovering from surgery to correct arm-pump problems, performed after round four. He returned with a bang at Barcelona two weeks ago, claiming his first pole position of the season. It preceded a strong race for the 28-year-old Spanish former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion. He battled with Marquez for victory to the end, finishing third after the pair collided on the last lap and he was forced to run wide.
The long-standing Repsol Honda rider was delighted in any case with his clear return to full strength, and is anxious to add more success at tomorrow's race, to prove the point still further and regain second place overall from long-standing rival Rossi.
German LCR Honda RC213V rider Stefan Bradl was the better of two satellite-team riders, qualifying eighth for a row-three getaway. The former Moto2 champion is aiming for his first podium of the year, after finishing fourth once and fifth twice.
Spaniard Alvaro Bautista had to fight his way through from the "junior" Q1 qualifying session after missing the top ten in free practice, and ended up tenth. Former 125cc World Champion Bautista and GO&FUN Gresini Honda team-mate Scott Redding have a special role, exclusively race-testing Nissin brakes and Showa suspension, made by Japanese companies closely linked to Honda.
Redding is one of four riders campaigning the new production-racer Honda RCV1000R, built for the "Open" category rules introduced this year, and using control electronic software supplied by the organizers rather than the custom-made software available to the factory teams.
Czech rider Karel Abraham (AB Cardion Motoracing Honda RCV1000R) was best of them, placed 13th. It is the best grid position of the season so far for the qualified lawyer, who has been gaining strength race by race after major reconstructive shoulder surgery last year.
Former 250cc World Champion Hiro Aoyama (Drive M7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R), back with Honda this season, was one place lower and just three hundredths of a second slower for 14th.
Redding was 16th on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda RCV1000R. Former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, recovering from wrist surgery barely three weeks ago, qualified 22nd on the second Drive M7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R.
Lap times in the elite Q2 session were slowed by rain that began again as the riders went out, so that the Q1 times were actually faster, for lower grid positions.
The middleweight Moto2 class is exclusively Honda powered, with the organizers providing all competitors with identical race-tuned Honda CBR600 engines fitted to individual prototype chassis to ensure evenly matched and reliable racing.
Assen qualifying times again proved how close the contest is, with 15 riders within one second of pole time - set for a sixth time this season and third in a row by championship leader Tito Rabat (Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex). Rabat has won four races this season including the last two, and has been off the top-three podium only once as he builds on his points lead.
Experienced Swiss racer Dominique Aegerter (Technomag carXpert Suter) was a close second, equalling his best starting position this year for a third front row.
Grand prix rookie Sam Lowes (Speed Up Speed Up) was third, for his second front-row start in an impressive debut season. The Briton is reigning 600 Supersport World Champion.
Second Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex rider Mika Kallio is second overall to his team-mate in the championship standings, and starts tomorrow from the head of the second row of the grid. Japan's Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex) is alongside, as he battles to regain his previous form. Italian veteran Simone Corsi (NGM Forward Racing Kalex) completes the second row.
With such close times, positions on the first three rows were hard-won. AirAsia Caterham Caterham-Suter rider Johann Zarco took seventh, ahead of reigning Moto3 champion Maverick Vinales (Paginas Amarillas), a class rookie who took victory in the second round of the season.
Ricard Cardus (Tech 3 Tech 3) and Xavier Simeon (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 Suter) complete a close top ten.
Honda is fighting rival manufacturers in Moto3, and was up at the sharp end, as usual. Barcelona's runaway race winner Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) was knocked off pole by a tenth of a second, to start in the middle of the front row.
Another Honda leads the second row, with Alexis Masbou (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) qualifying fourth, again underlining the experienced French rider's strength.
Second Estrella Galicia 0,0 rider Alex Rins is on the other end of row two; qualified sixth. Rins' performance was in spite of still carrying foot injuries from the Barcelona race, two weeks ago.
Scotsman John McPhee was tenth, after making his mark with a lap record at Barcelona; SaxoPrint-RTG team-mate Efren Vazquez - a strong title contender - was disappointed to drop to 15th in changeable weather conditions in the qualifying session.
New Honda rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Ongetta-AirAsia Honda) placed 27th out of 35 starters.
Tomorrow's race is the eighth of 18 rounds, approaching the half-way point of the season. That will come in two weeks at the Sachsenring in the former East Germany.
|1||Aleix ESPARGARO (NGM Forward Racing)||O|
|2||Marc MARQUEZ (Repsol Honda Team)||F|
|3||Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)||F|
|4||Andrea IANNONE (Pramac Racing)||F|
|5||Cal CRUTCHLOW (Ducati Team)||F|
|6||Bradley SMITH (Monster Yamaha Tech 3)||F|
|7||Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Ducati Team)||F|
|8||Stefan BRADL (LCR Honda MotoGP)||F|
|9||Jorge LORENZO (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)||F|
|10||Alvaro BAUTISTA (GO & FUN Honda Gresini)||F|
|11||Pol ESPARGARO (Monster Yamaha Tech 3)||F|
|12||Valentino ROSSI (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)||F|
|13||Karel ABRAHAM (Cardion AB Motoracing)||O|
|14||Hiroshi AOYAMA (Drive M7 Aspar)||O|
|15||Yonny HERNANDEZ (Energy T.I. Pramac Racing)||F|
* F=Factory option, O=Open category
|1||Esteve RABAT (Marc VDS Racing Team)|
|2||Dominique AEGERTER (Technomag carXpert)|
|3||Sam LOWES (Speed Up)|
|4||Mika KALLIO (Marc VDS Racing Team)|
|5||Takaaki NAKAGAMI (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia)|
|6||Simone CORSI (NGM Forward Racing)|
|7||Johann ZARCO (AirAsia Caterham)|
|8||Maverick VIÑALES (Paginas Amarillas HP 40)|
|9||Ricard CARDUS (Tech 3)|
|10||Xavier SIMEON (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2)|
|11||Julian SIMON (Italtrans Racing Team)|
|12||Mattia PASINI (NGM Forward Racing)|
|13||Franco MORBIDELLI (Italtrans Racing Team)|
|14||Sandro CORTESE (Dynavolt Intact GP)|
|15||Luis SALOM (Paginas Amarillas HP 40)|
|1||Jack MILLER (Red Bull KTM Ajo)|
|2||Alex MARQUEZ (Estrella Galicia 0,0)|
|3||Niklas AJO (Avant Tecno Husqvarna Ajo)|
|4||Alexis MASBOU (Ongetta-Rivacold)|
|5||Niccolò ANTONELLI (Junior Team GO & FUN Moto3)|
|6||Alex RINS (Estrella Galicia 0,0)|
|7||Isaac VIÑALES (Calvo Team)|
|8||Karel HANIKA (Red Bull KTM Ajo)|
|9||Romano FENATI (SKY Racing Team VR46)|
|10||John MCPHEE (SaxoPrint-RTG)|
|11||Danny KENT (Red Bull Husqvarna Ajo)|
|12||Enea BASTIANINI (Junior Team Go & FUN Moto3)|
|13||Miguel OLIVEIRA (Mahindra Racing)|
|14||Jakub KORNFEIL (Calvo Team)|
|15||Efren VAZQUEZ (SaxoPrint-RTG)|