KTM are on a roll after Espargaro’s South African teammate Brad Binder posted their breakthrough win in the elite division at the Czech MotoGP last Sunday.
And the Austrian outfit are hoping to capitalise on home advantage for this fourth leg of the coronavirus-curtailed championship.
In overcast but dry conditions Espargaro topped the time sheets ahead of last year’s winner Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) and Takaaki Nakagami (Honda-LCR).
Binder was down in 16th as he looks to double up after his maiden MotoGP success in only his third race in his rookie season.
Fabio Quartararo, who leads the world championship standings after winning the first two races, came in 10th on his SRT Yamaha satellite bike.
Defending six-time champion Marc Marquez has yet to score a point this season after crashing in the opening race at Jerez and missing the next two races after surgery on a broken arm.
He will be absent again on Sunday but hopes to return for the fifth leg of the season back at the same Spielberg circuit next week.
Austrian MotoGP first free practice times
1. Pol Espargaro (ESP/KTM): 1min 24:193sec, 2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA/Ducati) at 0.044s, 3. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN/Honda-LCR) 0.185, 4. Alex Rins (ESP/Suzuki) 0.380, 5. Franco Morbidelli (ITA/Yamaha-SRT) 0.395, 6. Johann Zarco (FRA/Ducati-Avintia) 0.462, 7. Miguel Oliveira (POR/KTM-Tech3) 0.525, 8. Jack Miller (AUS/Ducati-Pramac) 0.531, 9. Joan Mir (ESP/Suzuki) 0.550, 10. Fabio Quartararo (FRA/Yamaha-SRT) 0.560