MotoGP Aragon #2: Morbidelli leads Nakagami into qualifying

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Petronas Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli topped the third MotoGP free practice at Aragon this morning, just beating Taka Nakagami with Fabio Quartararo in third.

But it was again bad news for Ducati as not one Desmosedici made it into qualifying two with Jack Miller the best performer in 11th place.

In the opening stages of FP3, both Morbidelli and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) had improved their overall time, with the Yamaha man going into the top 10, demoting Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Dovizioso remained P19 but he was nearly half a second quicker than Friday, good signs for the Desmosedici rider on Saturday morning. Morbidelli then shot up to P8 to sit under half a second away from Nakagami’s blistering pace in FP2. In addition, we saw – once again – the top two in the Championship on track together. Quartararo was shadowing Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) as the latter got the roadrunner sign on his pit board to say he had some company.

With 20 minutes gone, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) joined his teammate and Morbidelli in improving his best time of the weekend, but the birthday boy wasn’t troubling the top 10 at the moment. It was a calm Saturday morning stint for the time being but it was all bubbling up nicely for time attack in the final 20 minutes, with Quartararo emerging on soft tyres to go top of the session. No improvement on his overall time though but that was coming on his next lap. The Frenchman was over three tenths up on Nakagami’s time through Sector 2 and in Sector 3 he was even further ahead, and sure enough El Diablo shot to the top of the times with a 1:47.401. The gauntlet was thrown down by Quartararo and with 19 minutes remaining, the title chaser was 0.381 clear of the competition.

Nakagami then responded. The Japanese rider looked on rails and went quicker than he did on Friday to sit just 0.009 off Quartararo, with Mir then improving to go P4. Pol Espargaro was back up into the top 10 too to push his brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) out; Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) then found himself into the top three. That 0.009 gap to Quartararo was then in favour of Nakagami, he went faster on his next flying lap to sit 0.009 ahead of Quartararo, despite a bit of a mistake at the final corner.

Personal best lap times were coming in all the while. Petrucci launched himself into P6 with a 1:48 flat as a Ducat ventured into the top 10 for the first time this weekend, seeing Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) vacate the top 10. Morbidelli joined his teammate inside the top three with his best lap of the weekend, just 0.124 covering Nakagami, Quartararo and the Italian and on his next lap, the San Marino GP winner was flying again. A mistake at Turn 12 put an end to that run though, as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) propelled himself to P10 to knock Pol Espargaro out of the automatic Q2 places.

Pol Espargaro then retaliated to go back into the top 10, with Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) coming to play with his best lap of the weekend. The Spaniard went P4 as Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) crashed unhurt at Turn 9, briefly bringing out the yellow flags. With five minutes to go, Dovizioso was P14. However, the wise Italian pulled a lap out the bag to go P6, but Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) immediately shoved Dovi down to P7 was the British rider clawed his way to P5.

A flurry of quick times and top 10 shufflings then took place in the frantic final two minutes. Lecuona and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) shot into the top 10 as Dovizioso slipped down to P9 – the danger zone. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) found himself lingering outside the top 10, but the Aragon GP podium finisher was about to change that as the reigning Moto2™ World Champion climbed to P4 and with Oliveira going P6, Dovizioso was back outside the top 10. The Suzukis of Rins and Mir improved to go P4 and P7 respectively. Then, as he did yesterday, Lecuona set a great lap time to pounce. The KTM rookie launched into P5, with Miller’s final lap only good enough for P11.

Nakagami’s time was looking fairly untroubled but on his last flying lap, Morbidelli was about to upset Honda’s applecart. The Yamaha man produced a wonderful hot lap to oust Nakagami from top spot, as fellow Yamaha man Viñales went from P7 to P4. Mir couldn’t find any improvement on his last lap and stayed P10, but Aleix Espargaro couldn’t quite find enough time on his last lap to dampen the Championship leader’s day – Mir through to Q2 by the skin of his teeth in P10.

So it’s Morbidelli who leads the MotoGP™ riders into qualifying as the wick is well and truly turned up in FP3, his time would have put him P5 on last weekend’s grid. Nakagami and Quartararo sit less than a tenth off the Italian with Viñales making it all three Yamahas inside the top four. Alex Marquez heads fellow rookie Lecuona as the Spanish duo sit P5 and P6, Aragon winner Rins is P7. Oliveira sees both Tech3 KTMs head straight into Q2, Crutchlow and Mir are the other riders who are through to Q2.

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