Spain’s Aleix Espargaro delivered a first ever MotoGP pole position for Aprilia at the Argentina Grand Prix on Saturday as racing finally got under way after a delay in delivering equipment had placed a question mark over the third round of the world championship.
The 32-year-old Espargaro edged out compatriot Jorge Martin on a Ducati-Pramac bike with Italian Luca Marini of Valentino Rossi’s Ducati-VR46 team filling out the front row for Sunday’s race.
Reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo of France on a Yamaha will start on the second row after qualifying in sixth place but with Pol Espargaro of Honda and Maverick Vinales on the second factory Aprilia ahead of him in fourth and fifth places.
Italy’s Francesco Bagnaia, the 2021 world championship runner-up, will start down in a lowly 14th place on his Ducati.
For Espargaro, whose world championship career started back in 2004 in the old 125cc class, it was a first pole since his Suzuki days seven years ago at the Catalunya Grand Prix in Barcelona.
“What I feel, I would say, it’s pride,” said Espargaro after seeing off Martin by 0.151secs.
“We have worked very, very hard for five years. Today we were the fastest bike in the world”
The Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir and Johann Zarco, of Ducati-Pramac, make up the third row.
Earlier, Japan’s Takaaki Nakagami had set the pace in first practice, just three days after being initially ruled out through Covid-19.
The Honda-LCR rider benefited from the delay to racing caused by the late arrival of key equipment for the teams when a freight flight was held up on its marathon journey from the last race in Indonesia.
With scheduled Friday practice cancelled, and all the sessions squeezed into Saturday instead, Nakagami had time to return a negative test which cleared the 30-year-old for duty.
He eventually qualified in 10th place for Sunday’s race.
Once the delayed flight eventually arrived on its last leg from Kenya overnight Friday—even carrying bikes for some teams—action was able to start on the track.
This weekend’s race is missing six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, who won the most recent Argentina Grand Prix in 2019.
The Spaniard suffered a concussion after a spectacular crash in the Indonesian Grand Prix when his Honda cartwheeled end-over-end as it disintegrated, before he landed on his left arm and smacked his helmet on the ground.
Marquez also suffered from double vision at the end of last season. He has been replaced for this weekend by Stefan Bradl.
Italy’s Enea Bastianini, of the Ducati-Gresini team, who won the season opener in Qatar, leads the championship with 30 points ahead of South African KTM rider Brad Binder on 28.
Quartararo is third on 27 points while Portugal’s Miguel Oliveira of KTM, who won in Indonesia, is in fourth place on 25 points.
Meanwhile, Spanish 16-year-old Fermin Aldeguer became the youngest rider ever to take pole for a Moto2 race with a time of 1min 43.306sec on Saturday.
The teenager beat Augusto Fernandez by 0.150secs with Tony Arbolino filling out the front row.
In Moto3, Sergio Garcia claimed a last-gasp pole in a time of 1min 48.429sec to beat Ayumu Sasaki by 0.171sec. Izan Guevara was third fastest. For 19-year-old Garcia, it was a second career pole.