Motor Sports

Chastened Espargaro sets pace at Catalunya MotoGP

MONTMELÓ, Spain: Aleix Espargaro, returning to the scene of his greatest racing embarrassment, dominated practice for the Catalunya MotoGP on Friday.

He then declared: "I have the best bike of my career."

The Aprilia rider was fastest in both the day's sessions with fellow Catalan and teammate Maverick Vinales second both times.

Francesco Bagnaia, the reigning world champion and runaway leader this season, was third in the afternoon on his Ducati.

Espargaro was born a few kilometres down the road from the Montmelo track.

"It's always a pleasure to ride here," he said. "I love to ride close to my home town my family and friends," he said on Friday.

Last year that pleasure lasted until one lap from the official finish.

Espargaro was the quickest in every session ahead of the race and set off from pole. He was running second to Frenchman Fabio Quartararo, when his local knowledge let him down.

Espargaro celebrated a podium finish a lap early, waving and slowing. By the time he realised his mistake, three riders had passed and he finished a sheepish fifth.

On Friday, with the slogan "One more lap" painted on his helmet, he started to make amends.

"I was very focussed," said Espargaro. "Just Friday but looking good."

In the morning, Espargaro was 0.264sec faster than Vinales. In the afternoon, he trimmed more than a second off his best morning time with a track record of 1 min 38.686sec to outpace Vinales by 0.362sec.

"Amazing day. Very happy and very surprised," said Vinales. "Tomorrow we have another day to keep smashing it."

Bagnaia was third in the afternoon on a factory Ducati another 0.013sec back. He was followed by Johann Zarco on a Pramac Ducati, Brad Binder on a KTM and Alex Marquez on a Gresini Ducati.

"It's not about revenge," said Espargaro ahead of the weekend.

"I made a big mistake last year. At the beginning it was really difficult to get past it and keep going. At the end it's a mistake – as a human I make a lot of mistakes. It was a big one last year."

He said it was a mistake he would not repeat.

"The marshals have to be careful because when I see the chequered flag I will keep going for one more lap."

Younger brother Pol Espargaro was sixth on Friday on a KTM. Italian Marco Bezzecchi, who is third in the standings, was seventh on a Mooney Ducati.

Jorge Martin, a distant second to Bagnaia in the standings, was 10th on the second Pramac.

Six-time champion Marc Marquez was 19th out of 22 riders in the afternoon following a worrying incident in the morning session when he rose from a crash nursing the right thumb he broke in the season opener.--AFP

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