Karel Hanika robbed Bradley Ray of the chance of a home pole position as he broke free of the pack to set the fastest lap of the day at Silverstone with just minutes remaining. The 17-year-old Czech, fresh from his home race win a week ago, elbowed the 16-year-old Briton into second with Spanish 15-year-old Jorge Martín completing the front row.
Those three have each won races this season and while Hanika has a 51 point advantage over Martín in the Cup table there is no suggestion that this weekend's two races will be anything but desperately close fought affairs.
Ray looking for another win
Ray, who won the opening race of the year in Austin Texas in fabulous style, has been unlucky since and only stands 8th in the points. He was knocked off in one race and suffered a mechanical failure in another but his biggest problem has been a lack of feeling with the bike through suspension difficulties that were corrected last week in Brno thanks to new components.
“The bike feels really good now, finally I can enjoy riding it, it's great,” said Ray with his old smile back. “The bike is still moving around a lot here but that is because of the bumps. Through some corners you can find a line that misses them but some you can't miss, it's really rough. It was a shame to lose out on pole though, I just got held up a bit right at the end of my last flying lap. Still the bike's good for the race.”
The man to beat
Hanika was clearly relieved to have another pole accomplished. “That was some session, early on everyone seemed to be chasing me,” he said with his huge smile. “In the end I managed to get away and we improved the bike through the day. At first I was a bit worried, the track is very bumpy but we got close to the right settings at the end. I want to change it slightly for the race and see if we can improve it still. I think half of the problem is the bumps and half the setting. If we can get it perfect, then wonderful, if it is just as it is now that will be OK.”
Martín had the same problem with the bumps as the others. “In some corners you can miss the worst of them by staying right to the inside but some you can't miss and that makes it pretty difficult. The bike is good though and I am sure it will be a close race.”
Not just a trio
It is very likely that the race will feature many more than those three at the front, the second row is headed by Manuel Pagliani, the 17-year-old Italian who did most of the leading in Brno before finishing second. Next to him, Marcos Ramirez, the 15-year-old Spaniard who is always a threat and then Enea Bastianini the 15-year-old Italian who has already won once in this, his first season.
This weekend's Rookies Cup races can be seen live on www.redbull.tv and on TV stations around the world. Race 1 is at 16.30 BST (17.30 CET) on Saturday and Race 2 is on Sunday at 16.00 BST (17.00 CET), the show starts 10 minutes before the race.