MotoGP Assen: Espargaro tops FP3 despite late crash

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Aprilia was back on top in FP3 as Aleix Espargaro set the pace with a 1’32.164 in Saturday’s opening MotoGP action at Assen.

Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo denied the Noale factory a one-two in the times as Maverick Viñales rounded out the top three, just 0.057s behind ‘the Captain’ until further post-flag deletions promoted Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins into third.

Saturday’s morning practice began with Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini in the gravel and Pol Espargaro withdrawing form the action - the Repsol Honda rider struggling to breathe due to his injured ribs and unable to muscle his RC213V around the 4.5km layout for the rest of the weekend.

Aprilia locked out the initial standings as Espargaro headed Viñales on 1’33 pace until Marco Bezzecchi split the pair on the second VR46 machine. Viñales was in charge by his fifth attempt as the Spaniard became the first to set a 1’32, Ducati’s Pecco Bagnaia running third from a heroic Alex Rins and Quartararo with teammate Jack Miller rounding out the top six.

The defending champion improved to third as the session bedded in. His predecessor Joan Mir neatly behind as Franky Morbidelli crashed the second Monster Energy M1 with an intense barrel roll through the gravel at turn 15.

Viñales upped the pace with a 1’32.911 as his former teammate joined him in the top two. Bagnaia the sole front runner yet to improve on his Friday pace, with the impressive effort still enough for fourth overall.

Bezzecchi continued to shine in the dry conditions as he maintained his place amongst the usual contenders, running sixth at the halfway stage with Suzuki’s Rins and Pramac’s Johann Zarco for company either side in the standings.

KTM’s Brad Binder sat in the danger zone as the second half began with next year’s garage partner Miller narrowly ahead. Gresini’s Enea Bastianini and Miguel Oliveira adrift of promotion with a quarter of an hour to go.

Bastianini was the first to improve, to fifth as the final third began. Oliveira trailing the Gresini rider for seventh as the pair circulated alone. Espargaro struck for glory as he bettered his teammate with a 1’32.518 just as Bastianini crashed out at turn seven on his next attempt.

Bezzecchi improved to second before Rins and Zarco dispatched him back to fourth in quick succession. Viñales retuning to the lead with a 1’32.4 before Espargaro bettered again by another three-tenths to maintain the Noale dominance.

Bagnaia finally improved on his opening day action with a 1’32.440 for third, as Quartararo did likewise in second. LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami, Miller and Mir holding the final promotion places as rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio and Prima’s Jorge Martin sat just outside the top ten.

Bezzecchi claimed third with three minutes on the clock until Rins arrived to steal the position. Diggia crashing out of contention at turn five in the closing moments as Zarco succumbed to turn seven seconds later. Espargaro completing a trio of fallers in less than a minute at turn three.

A late move for Martin placed the Pramac seventh, neatly ahead of his teammate as Miller rose to demote the pair as the chequered flag dropped. Mir missing out on a Q2 place from eleventh as his best effort fell over a tenth shy, while Nakagami, the last to cross the line, made his way to fifth. Late deletions denying ‘Top Gun’ the top three as the Spaniard dropped to seventh.

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