The fans who came to Jerez to watch the MotoGP Spanish GP from the stands had to rub their eyes and pinch themselves when reviewing Friday’s classification. They were far from dreaming, up there, among the best in the championship, was a familiar number 26. Dani Pedrosa, a legend of Spanish motorcycling, at 37, is taking part this weekend as one more rider in the race, now at backs of a KTM. Special guest of the organization (wild cardas it is called in English), which extends a few additional slots on the grid to all factories throughout the year, the little samurai amazed the paddock with a higher rate than the World Cup aces in 2023.
Pedrosa, who last tasted the sweetness of victory in 2017, placed first with 19 minutes to go in Friday’s first practice, but then the rest of the grid pushed on knowing that the afternoon heat was going to complicate the conditions to set a good time. With the change in format, the first day of the Grand Prix is now essential to face the demanding Saturdays well with pole morning and sprint race in the early afternoon. The Catalan, when he seemed to return to reality, surprised locals and strangers by setting a time that he had never achieved in Jerez. He was running tenth when he dropped below 1m37s for the first time in his life and managed to finish the session in first place: 1m36.77s. Not even the television production had a photo of Pedrosa at hand to illustrate his prominent role in the day. In the second session, only the Aprilias of Aleix Espargaró and Maverick Viñales were able to overtake him at the last minute: 1m36.708s for the older Espargaró, the fastest of the day. With his third place in the combined times, the man from Castellar del Vallés will participate directly in the fight for the pole position this Saturday (11:15 a.m., DAZN), where he can get an unbeatable position to aspire to glory in a sprint he has never played (3:00 p.m., DAZN).
“It’s an incredible feeling for me, the team and the fans. It was something that I didn’t even expect, so it was definitely a surprise”, Pedrosa confessed to the MotoGP microphones. “I honestly have no idea. We are going to go step by step”, he dribbled when asked about the possibility of ending the weekend with a good result. The applause in the garage of the Austrian brand, surrendered to the competitive potential of the veteran, confirmed the general joy for a guy admired behind the scenes of the contest. “I have kept the time sheet because I still can’t believe it… is this a 2023 race?” Francesco Guidotti, director of the Austrian team, wondered with a smile from ear to ear. “He has been preparing this moment since last winter, but he has something that you cannot buy in a supermarket. He is fast and retains all his talent ”.
Two weeks ago Pedrosa was finalizing details in a private test at the Ángel Nieto circuit, where he has had a curve in his name since 2019. In this same setting, the three-time world champion in small categories and three-time runner-up in the premier category won up to four times throughout his career. In addition, he has accumulated 11 podiums on the track, the second best mark behind Valentino Rossi. Showing off his nickname, the samurai kept a serious pose and his heart rate under control at all times. “Being retired for so long slows you down a bit. You adapt to tranquility, not having stress. My competitive gene is on pause, and I will have to try to activate it”, he assured before going out on track. And boy did he activate it. His millimeter layout in the curves of the Andalusian circuit, one of his favorite appointments on the calendar, returned to the track the brilliance of the golden age of the contest, that of the vibrant duels with Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Márquez. “He continues to lift the motorcycle like no one else, he is a true legend”, Guidotti complimented him. “That’s cool. After being at home, coming in and running 36 in the first session is incredible and gives credit to what a good driver he is. He deserves to be applauded for what he is doing these days ”, celebrated Espargaró, 33, usually the oldest on the grid, in statements to DAZN.
On a Friday of maximum tension, various data confirmed that Pedrosa was at an enormous level. He was faster than the last three world champions in a session where the top ten were separated by three tenths. The four winners of the course –Bagnaia, Binder, Bezzechi and Rins, 15th as best Honda– were left out of the cut and will have to go through the first qualifying round this Saturday.
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