Francesco Bagnaia secured his second MotoGP pole of 2023 at Le Mans thanks to a late flyer, while Fabio Quartararo failed to escape Q1 for the second straight encounter.

Bagnaia looked to be behind the eight ball across practice for the French Grand Prix as he generally languished just outside the top ten most of the time, the Italian sitting fifth just over two-tenths-of-a-second down on Maverick Vinales after the opening runs of the pole shootout.

Bagnaia managed to turn up the wick as the final efforts began though as he first posted a lap that put him second just fractions behind the Spaniard, though the goalposts were moved dramatically as the returning Marc Marquez fired in a lap nearly three-tenths quicker to steal provisional pole for Honda.

The reigning MotoGP world champion dug in deep though and banged in a 1:30.705s on his very final gambit to move himself 0.058s clear of Marquez, an advantage he would sustain until the very end to notch up his second pole in the past three races.

Marquez thus had to settle for a still-impressive second on his racing comeback – having been absent from competition since the season opening Portuguese GP over a month ago – while Luca Marini completed the front row for VR46 Ducati despite having had to progress from Q1 to reach the pole shootout.

Saturday favourite and overnight leader Jack Miller could only manage fourth in the end for KTM having lapped nearly three-tenths away from Bagnaia’s benchmark, while Jorge Martin completed the top five ahead of Vinales – who saw his chances of a first pole of the year dashed when he hit technical problems with his primary machine before the final runs.

Marco Bezzecchi was seventh on the sister VR46 entry ahead of Alex Marquez’s Gresini-run Ducati, with Johann Zarco lining up ninth for his home race on his Pramac Ducati just clear of Brad Binder on the other official KTM.

Aleix Espargaro fell to 11th in the order after failing to improve at the end of Q2 due to a high-speed crash at Turn 1, while Augusto Fernandez did well to escape Q1 for the first time in his young MotoGP career – though he could do no better than 12th during the session.

Quartararo meanwhile continued to struggle with his tricky Yamaha as he failed to escape Q1 for the second successive outing, the Frenchman forced to start 13th once again after missing out to Fernandez by just 0.023s.

Takaaki Nakagami was the next-best Honda in 14th ahead of fellow RC213-V pilots Joan Mir and LCR team-mate Alex Rins in 16th and 18th respectively, while Danilo Petrucci came out on top in the battle of the stand-in riders on his factory Ducati in 19th just clear of RNF Aprilia’s Lorenzo Savadori and GasGas’ Jonas Folger.  

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