Espargaro on pole for Dutch MotoGP

Assen (Netherlands) (AFP) - Spain's Aleix Espargaro took pole position for Saturday's Dutch MotoGP in difficult qualifying conditions, finishing ahead of championship leader Marc Marquez.

It is the first-ever pole position for the Yamaha rider, who made his intentions clear on Thursday by setting a blistering fastest lap ever recorded at the current Assen track.

Espargaro will be aiming to deny the apparently unstoppable Marquez a record eighth victory and the chance to stretch his perfect 175-point tally so far this season.

Typically unpredictable Dutch weather struck as the second group of racers set out for qualifying undedr a light shower.

The changing conditions seemed to throw veteran Valentino Rossi of Italy, who is currently second in the standings, 58 points adrift of Marquez.

Rossi could only manage 12th place on the grid, meaning he'll start in the fourth row on Saturday and faces a mighty battle for a podium position.

Espargaro, who set a time of 1min 38.789sec on Friday outpaced Marquez by a comfortable 1.405sec in the changing and difficult weather, with another Spaniard, long-time Grand Prix campaigner Dani Pedrosa, third, 1.943sec off the pace.

"I'm really happy, we have been waiting for this," Espargaro said, but he agreed that the unpredictable weather would make for a "very difficult race" on Saturday.

"I prefer it dry. (When dry) we have a very good pace," he said.

Marquez also warned the weather could play a major role, with cloudy conditions predicted and the possibility of a few showers.

"We are hoping for dry conditions because that would be better," the reigning world champion said.

"If it's wet, it will be very, very interesting."

Third placed Pedrosa, himself a former 250cc world champion, said riders were faced with tough choices between opting for wet or dry tyres.

"It's been a while since we've been riding on wet tyres," added Pedrosa, who won the first of his 47 Grand Prix races as a 16-year-old on the track in 2002.

Italy's Andrea Iannone will lead the second row, finishing fourth fastest at 1.997sec on a Ducati, with Britain's Cal Crutchlow on another Ducati alongside him at 2.007sec.

In the Moto2 Grand Prix, current leader Spain's Esteve Rabat took pole position on his Kalex with a time of 1min 37.311sec.

Rabat, who at 149 points is 34 points ahead of Finland's Mika Kallio and aiming for a third consecutive win, finished his fasted lap just 0.151sec ahead of Swiss racer Dominique Aegerter on a Suter at 1min 37.462sec.

Earlier, Australian championship leader Jack Miller sped to a fourth pole position in the Moto3 Grand Prix with a time of 1min 42.240sec.

Miller, who has so far notched up 117 points, finished his fastest lap just 0.116 ahead of Spaniard Alex Marquez on a Honda.

Finnish rider Niklas Ajo on a Husqvarna was third in 1min 42.430sec.

The Dutch TT is run on a Saturday instead of a Sunday because of religious reasons in the strongly Protestant Netherlands.