Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) is doing everything he can to deny Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) the crown in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, going fastest on Friday and following it up with pole position on Saturday – his third in the premier class at the track – as Marquez heads into the battle for his seventh title from sixth. ‘DesmoDovi’ won’t go down without a fight and the news gets even worse for Marquez on the rest of the front row, with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) taking second and third respectively – two men with no Championship pressure and everything to gain.
It was a quickfire end to Q2 qualifying at Motegi and ‘DesmoDovi’ avoided the drama to perfection. That wasn’t quite true of Zarco, who put in a spectacular last ditch all-or-nothing lap and only just missed pole, but it was even less for Miller as the Australian set a stunner and then ended the session in the gravel trap. No harm done and rider ok, his earlier exploits made sure he held on to his front row – and he’s optimistic ahead of race day.
The second row also has some big contenders for Marquez to pick his way past: fellow Honda rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), who was on provisional pole until the last push, took fourth and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone was a man who, like Zarco, left it late to pounce but then pushed Marquez back down to sixth.
The threats could also come from behind for the reigning Champion, however. Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) is in seventh and edged out Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) by less than a tenth, with the gap even smaller back to the second Movistar Yamaha of Valentino Rossi. Rossi, a former premier class winner at the venue, left it late to move through to Q2 in the morning and wasn’t able to challenge ahead of Row 3 in qualifying, with the Italian now looking for gains on Sunday.
Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) completes the top ten after he made it through Q1 – his final lap breaking Red Bull KTM Factory Racing hearts as he pushed out Bradley Smith – and three-time Motegi winner Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) had a more difficult session in P11. Home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was the other graduate from Q1 and he lines up in tweflth after getting through to Q2 for the fourth time this season.
Smith was pushed down to P13, with his teammate Pol Espargaro and Alma Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci locking out the fastest fifteen on Saturday.
So the stage is set and it’s Dovizioso in the driving seat so far at the Twin Ring Motegi. Will that be true on Sunday? A win can stop Marquez taking the title but anything less would likely see the Spaniard crowned. Tune in for the all-or-nothing Motul Grand Prix of Japan at 14:00 (GMT +9)!
Moto2™ qualifying at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan saw Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46) take his sixth pole position of the season by 0.165 over second place Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up), with Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors) lining up on the front row for the first time in his Grand Prix career. Bagnaia’s form from pole has been dominant this season, with that a warning shot for the field.
Bagnaia didn’t top any of the Free Practice sessions ahead of qualifying at the Twin Ring Motegi but managed to string the fastest lap together when it counted most, ensuring he starts from the front row for the first time since Misano. Quartararo had been fastest in FP3 on Saturday morning, meanwhile, but he couldn’t quite better the early benchmark of 1:50.759. Nonetheless, the Frenchman grabs his best qualifying result since he secured pole at the Catalan GP and Friday’s fastest Lecuona made it his best ever qualifying to start alongside Quartararo.
Just behind them, Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) will launch from the front of the second row in fourth in yet another strong showing for the German, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) improving his time late in the session to earn himself a P5 starting position. After his huge FP1 crash, Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will aim to fight for the podium on a track he claimed victory at last season from P6 on the grid. The man second that day is the rider to start behind the Spaniard on the grid: future teammate Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP). P7 for the Spaniard means a best grid position since the German GP, at the head of Row 3. Home rider Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) took a brilliant P8 after being inside the top ten in every session in Motegi, edging out Championship challenger Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who has some work to do from ninth. His teammate Brad Binder completed the top ten fastest after a more difficult weekend so far for the South African.
With a sizeable margin of points in his pocket, Bagnaia could play it safe on Sunday but he says his plan is to push from the off. Can Oliveira close him down early doors? Or will the likes of Quartararo manage to put a dent in that plan when the lights go out? Find out on Sunday at 12:20 (GMT +9).
Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider) will start Sunday’s Motul Grand Prix of Japan from pole position after a stellar qualifying session, putting in a 1:56.894 to edge less than a tenth clear of those on the chase. The first of those was John McPhee (CIP – Green Power), 0.075 in arrears, with title contender Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP) joining the duo on the front row in P3.
Rodrigo was topping the timesheets before the typical late flurry of times came in an enthralling final ten minutes of the session, with Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) took the chequered flag first to shoot to P1 but the story of the session not yet concluded. Championship leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) managed to find himself some clean air to beat the Bastianini’s time, but lurking just behind him was Rodrigo. A great lap from the Argentinean rider saw him dip below the 1:57 barrier, with key title contender Bezzecchi then crucially setting a faster lap than Martin to put himself P2. The Spaniard looked like he would be able to cling on to the front row before McPhee then shot up to P2, making it a front row lock out for Austrian manufacturer KTM.
The points leader therefore has to settle for a P4 starting slot, with Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) managing to put in a strong last lap to line up alongside the Spaniard on the second row. P5 is the South African’s best ever qualifying, beating his previous best of sixth last time out. In Japan, however, it’s Bastianini starting sixth, with the Italian pushed down from the top to the outside of the second row.
Compatriot Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) heads Row 3 after missing out to Bastianini by just 0.008, with Kazuki Masaki taking eighth to complete a great Saturday for the RBA BOE Skull Rider team. He’s the highest-placed Japanese rider on home turf. Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team) and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) complete the top ten.
A perfect mix of title contenders and pacesetters with nothing to lose populate the first two rows in Motegi. Will there be another twist in the tale on Sunday? Or can Martin get back the momentum? Find out from 11:00 (GMT +9).
- ‘Fast’ Freddie’s extraordinary career in his words
- Junior Talent Team raring to race in 2019
- Quartararo "satisfied" with rollercoaster debut weekend
- It’s a triumph!
- Countdown to SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France is on!
- Aleix races the Cape Epic ahead of Argentina
- Open-door policy: who are the FIM?
- Top five youngest Japanese race winners
- Dall’Igna: “We were a bit perplexed”
- Buasri rules Buriram in dramatic Race 2