Francesco Bagnaia leads Ducati team-mate Jack Miller over the line in qualifying
Le Mans (France) (AFP) - Francesco Bagnaia on Saturday grabbed pole position for the French MotoGP by breaking the track record set hours earlier.
The Italian completed a lap in 1min 30.45sec to shave a little more than a tenth of a second off the record Frenchman Johann Zarco set in morning practice.
Bagnaia set his fastest lap with Ducati factory team-mate Jack Miller riding in his slipstream. The Australian, who won at Le Mans last year, used the tow to finish 0.69sec behind and grab second on the grid.
Aleix Espargaro, who is second in the standings, seized third on his Aprilia right at the end of qualifying pushing championship leader Fabio Quartararo off the front row.
The world champion will start fourth on his Yamaha as he chases a first victory at his home grand prix.
Quartararo said he was not concerned that Espargaro was a row ahead of him.
“He is fast, but I have the impression that we have an edge on race rhythm, I have something more.
“Nothing is lost, we really have the potential to fight for victory,” said the French rider.
Bagania, who had struggled in the last practice in the early afternoon, said his engineers had made a small adjustment for qualifying.
“And finally, the feeling was great. So, I’m happy for the pole position, I’m more happy about finding something that helped me a lot.”
“I think we are ready for the race tomorrow,” he said, adding that he was looking over his shoulder at Quartararo. “For sure Fabio is the man to beat.”
Enea Bastianini, on a Ducati Gresini, who broke Zarco’s 2018 record on Friday, will start fifth.
Zarco, who took the record briefly back on Saturday, qualified sixth on a Ducati Pramac before picking up a three-place penalty for “irresponsible” riding.
In consequence Joan Mir moved up to the second row, with his fellow Suzuki rider Alex Rins and Jorge Martin on a Ducati now joined by Zarco on the third row.
Six-time world champion Marc Marquez is 10th on his Honda.
After both finishing on the podium last year, French pair Quartararo and Zarco will be striving to end a long French drought in their home Grand Prix before a race-day crowd of 100,000.
The only previous French winner was Pierre Monneret at Reims in 1954 in the era of two-stroke 500cc.
While world champion Quartararo is aiming for his 10th victory in the class, Zarco, who made his debut in 2017, has never won.
Zarco said he was still not entirely happy with his bike set up.
“We keep looking for that little thing that would allow me to be more comfortable. We’re not there yet, but it’s progressing, I feel I can be in the mix,” he said.
Storms are forecast for Sunday afternoon. Quartararo, who was third behind Miller and Zarco in a downpour last year, was not concerned.
“I’m confident in the dry or in the wet,” he said. “Although I hope it will be on a dry track.”