We’ve been wondering if it were possible, and now we know, or we know the answer to the first part of the question we’ve been asking since the new rules came out. Is there any track at which an Open Class bike can use its softer tyre to beat the Factory bikes to pole position and/or the win?
The answer is yes, pole is possible at Assen provided circumstances conspire just a little with a clever rider. That man was Aleix Espargaro who used a soft tyre on a tricky surface to get in a quick lap before the rain came down. Conditions were so obviously going to get worse that when the lights went green for the final qualifying session nearly all the twelve men in Q2 left in a group, with Marc Marquez arriving late and trying to find a way to the front. He couldn’t, or rather he couldn’t ’til they came to the right/left chicane at the end of the back straight where he pushed his way first under Pedrosa and then past Pol Espargro, who had him boxed in against the curb, and then went round the outside of Lorenzo. It was a piece of riding straight from his first lap off the back of the Moto2 grid at Valencia; astonishing, audacious and to ordinary mortals, downright dangerous. It got him the front row.
Aleix Espargaro had been brave enough to let the pack go and had a good target as he made good use of the soft tyre the Open Class can use. On that second flying lap he took 1.5sec out of the group and secured his first pole position in any class. Cal Crutchlow had also noticed that the pack didn’t appear to be pushing the limits. He’d endured a truly awful FP4, and had to progress through first qualifying. It didn’t look as if he could do that but one truly gutsy lap put him through to Q2 where he was prepared to push harder than a lot of people and secured a second-row start. As his lap times this weekend were starting to draw unfavorable comparisons with world and British superbike times at the Assen circuit, and mutterings of “Melandri Syndrome” from parts of the Italian press, this was a very timely achievement. Yes, it may have been fortuitous and bear no resemblance to his potential race pace, as Cal himself pointed out, but the qualifying lap was clever and the one that got him into Q2 was a reminder of what a tough competitor he is. Remind yourself, Cal was on pole here last year. No wonder he looked so depressed after FP4.