Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) shocked for a last minute pole position in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan – his second in the permier class – taking the honour late in the session and no further laps able to challenge the Frenchman. Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) took second as another to navigate the wet-but-drying track conditions well, with reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) completing the front row by virtue of an earlier lap after gambling on slicks at the end of the session.
With a dry line beginning to appear by the start of MotoGP™ Q2 session, it was the KTMs of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith moving through to join the top ten in the shootout – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) sending immediate shockwaves through the field as he headed out on slicks straight away. That would prove the wrong decision, and the nine-time World Champion was then forced back in to switch.
Marquez, meanwhile, was 1.6 seconds clear at the top when he decided to try slicks – despite a moment on the wet tyres on what would prove his fastest lap. That left a target on P1 for many in the field still pushing hard on wets, with Zarco best able to take the challenge to the reigning Champion and Petrucci then taking second – with Marquez locking out the front row. A gamble gone wrong, but a heads up on how quickly Motegi dries out in case of a flag to flag?
Heading the second row and fulfilling his Friday target is Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), who just missed out on lining up further forward in the latter stages of his last lap, with Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) taking fifth on his final push and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) locking out Row 2.
The KTMs were next up, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) initially taking a provisional front row before times began to further tumble, and by the flag it was teammate Bradley Smith who just pipped the Spaniard. The Austrian factory machines will start seventh and eighth; Espargaro only 0.034 in arrears.
Title challenger Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) had a more difficult session and ended Q2 in P9, with Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone taking tenth and eleventh. Rossi, after his early gamble on slicks, lines up in P12.
After going third fastest in Q1, Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) will line up behind the nine-time World Champion, and just ahead of the second factory Yamaha Maverick Viñales, who had a tough Saturday. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) starts fifteenth after missing out on Q2 following a moment at the final corner on his last lap in Q1.
Now it’s time to race. Wet, dry, something in between…it all remains to be seen at Motegi, with the title contenders split throughout the field and some dark horses beginning to emerge. Tune in at 14:00 (GMT +9) on Sunday to see the Japanese GP kick the flyaways into gear.
Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) will start from pole for his home Grand Prix after an incredible final shootout in qualifying at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, snatching the honour from Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) on his final push as conditions went from marginal to slicks within the session. Marquez starts from P2 after recovering from an early throttle problem, ahead of Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing), who was another to time his attack to perfection.
After some riders attempting to use slicks in the earlier MotoGP™ qualifying session, it looked set to be a dry shootout at the end of the session for the intermediate class – and it didn’t disappoint. The early pacesetters on slicks were Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and FP3’s fastest in the wet Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia), before the final battle came down to Nakagami vs Marquez vs Vierge – and Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team).
After all four crossed the line, it was Pasini who just missed the front row and took P4, joined on Row 2 by Oliveira and Syahrin. Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) and teammate Marcel Schrötter took P7 and P8, with Xavier Simeon (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) and fastest rookie Augusto Fernandez (Speed Up Racing) completing the top ten.
Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) was eleventh, ahead of Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) – with Championship challenger Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) having a difficult qualifying in P13. But the Swiss rider can take some heart from the position of his key rival for the crown, as Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) qualified in P15 – behind first Lüthi and Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) in P14.
It will be a fight at the front at to the front on Sunday, with lights out at 12:20 (GMT +9).
Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) has taken a stunning pole position for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan after going fastest on Friday and seeming the man to beat for much of the weekend. With conditions still wet and looking to remain so, the Italian has barely looked back since topping FP1 after an 18-lap non-stop stint – something that should set him up well for race day. It’s his second ever pole position, the other having come at Jerez in 2016 when a rookie.
Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was another impressive Italian in qualifying for the lightweight class and set the second fastest lap in the session to secure the middle of the front row, bouncing back in style from a highside in FP3 and able to move within a few tenths of Bulega towards the end of the session. Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) completes the front row, moving up on his penultimate lap.
Marco Bezzecchi (CIP) took fourth after his best ever QP session, with compatriots Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and title challenger Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) completing that second row. Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Racing Team) and Manuel Pagliani (CIP) – fastest and consistent in FP3 – line up on the third row, with Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) locking out the top ten.
Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is P11, with Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia) putting in a solid session for P12 despite a crash. Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team) moved up later in the session to take thirteenth.
That left Championship leader Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) – currently 80 points clear – in P14, and the story gets worse: the Majorcan has a six-place grid penalty to serve in the Japanese GP, and therefore looks likely to start 20th. That means Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) and Livio Loi (Leopard Racing) should move up to fill the last two of the top fifteen grid positions.
Racing begins at 11:00 (GMT +9) on Sunday.
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