Qualifying was cool and windy but, finally, dry. With dark clouds looming overhead, a fast early lap was critical. “The radar said there was supposed to be some rain about 2 o’clock,” said Hayden. “So, it was just get the quickest lap possible without thinking too much about race setup.”
Pedrosa fell almost immediately. He was unhurt but his bike and leathers were damaged. Bradl stormed to the top of the order but was soon displaced by Lorenzo and Crutchlow. Then, Spies took the top spot, his soft-option Bridgestone visibly spinning and sliding under acceleration.
Crutchlow was the first rider into the 1:49-second bracket. “The track was really dirty,” he said. “At the start of the session, I caught the Ducatis of Valentino, Abraham and Nicky, and I thought someone was shooting bullets at me.”
Rossi struggled, crashing midway through the session on a cold front tire. “It was the first flying lap and first right corner,” he said. “I lose some important time, but I am okay.”
Rea was seventh, nearly a half-second quicker than Rossi and Hayden. “I was riding a bit scared in the beginning,” he said, “staying off the curbs and white lines. I also had an electrical problem. We didn’t have data from the first outing, so I wasn’t sure how to improve. I had to go out blind again, and we wasted some time.”
Spies finished the one-hour session fourth-quickest ahead of Bradl and Dovizioso, one of just four riders in the 1:49-second bracket. “We didn’t leave a whole lot out there,” said the American, “but I never felt like I attacked a full lap and nailed it down.”
Hayden crashed late in qualifying, his first outing of the weekend on Ducati’s latest aluminum chassis. “I was having a lot of problems in the last corner with the bike not turning once I released the brake,” he said. “I lost the front pretty big and was lucky to save it. But when I picked it up, I was going straight for the wall pretty fast. With slicks and wet grass, you don’t stand much of a chance.” He was gridded for the race alongside Rea and Rossi on the third row.
Crutchlow looked set to win his first pole until Lorenzo “took the watch—again.” Pedrosa was second, just .088 of a second back. “It was difficult to get on the pace at the beginning of practice,” admitted Lorenzo. “We struggled a lot. With the last qualifying tire, I pushed a lot and made pole position.”
Lorenzo also led morning warmup on Sunday, his best lap of 1:49.404 just .018 of a second quicker than Spies, with Pedrosa third. Bradl posted the highest top speed of the weekend: 211.276 mph. With track temperature higher than it had been all weekend, riders began to show interest in the harder of the two Bridgestone front slicks. For the race, all but three chose the harder option; everyone went for the softer rear.
When the lights went out, Lorenzo and Pedrosa split. Rossi ran off track, and within five laps, Hayden, BQR CRT rider David Salom and Bradl had crashed. The American hit an unprotected wall head-on and was catapulted over the handlebars.
Spies held off Dovizioso for 14 laps; Crutchlow came past three circuits later. “We were just a tenth off on the last five laps,” he said. Spies had a front-row seat for the gloves-off battle for the final podium spot between Dovizioso and Crutchlow. “Cal tried more than normal and was quite aggressive but clean,” said Dovizioso. “So, it was nice to battle with him.”
Rea finished seventh, 32 seconds behind Pedrosa, sandwiched loosely between Bautista and Rossi.
Lorenzo led six laps before being passed by Pedrosa, who opened a gap that grew to nearly 6.5 seconds at the checkers. Putting Pedrosa’s performance in perspective, Lorenzo managed six 1-minute, 49-second laps. Crutchlow did two, Spies and Bradl one each.
Pedrosa did 15.
“I knew sooner or later my bike would start to spin a lot and I would lose performance,” said Lorenzo. “Dani was faster today. I tried to follow him, and I have this mistake and almost crash. I say, ‘Okay, second place is good.’”
Pedrosa’s concentration was so intense that he almost forgot he was in a race. “When you get this focus so high, you are above everything,” he said. “You don’t think about anything else but riding. It’s like a different dimension.”