Friday at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan saw Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) unleash his by-now traditional pace to top the combined timesheets, with the Frenchman ahead of the field by 0.321 seconds by the end of FP2 as he begins his bid to wrap up the Rookie of the Year title this weekend. The next man up was Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who had the tables turned on him in the afternoon after topping FP1, with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) completing the top three after a classic last dash scramble for most near the end of action.
Dry but grey skies were the name of the game on Day 1 and the program was a full one as rain threatens the rest of the weekend, with places in Q2 seemingly up for grabs already. As a manufacturer, it was Yamaha who were quickest out the blocks, with Viñales leading a 1-2-3 for the Iwata marque in the morning and Quartararo strking late to take over as the first of four Yamahas in the top six after FP2. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was a late mover to take fifth overall on Day 1, ahead of Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) in P6.
So who spoiled the party? Only Marquez in third and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in fourth were able put paid to Yamaha domination, although that ends up proving a good omen for both the Iwata marque and the two men who were able to join the upper echelons of the timesheets.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was exceedingly close to the top six, however, with the Australian seventh overall by just 0.015. He also suffered a crash on his very final lap of the day, rider ok but bike needing a little T&C overnight. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was P8 and 0.042 off his fellow Ducati rider, with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) impressing to end Day 1 as top Suzuki once again – just as he did in Thailand. He was 0.022 off Petrucci despite a run off at Turn 5.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) is the final man who stands to take an automatic place in Q2 if the expected weather closes in, with the Spaniard pushing out some high-profile hopefuls: Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was P11 by just 0.009, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was 12th and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) 13th. Both Rins and Crutchlow were on the podium last year behind winner Marquez, although in reverse order.
Rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) was 14th on Day 1 and just ahead of Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who locked out the fastest 15. The home hero is scheduled to undergo surgery after Motegi and miss the final three races of the season, so a solid finish will be in his sights.
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) had a fast one at Turn 12 on Friday, but the Portuguese rider was given the all clear and will be back out on Saturday. He was 19th on Day 1.
Championship leader Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was the man to beat on Day 1 at Motegi, topping the combined timesheets by nearly two tenths ahead of key rival Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Binder’s teammate, Jorge Martin, completed the top three as the rookie continued his impressive form from Thailand.
Friday was a dry one despite rain seemingly on the horizon for Saturday, and the stakes were high throughout the classes as the grids rushed to try and take provisional spots in Q2. Marquez did that, and the Spaniard’s 0.181 in his pocket is a good early omen for him taking his fourth win at the track on Sunday. Binder, however, continues his charge towards the front as top scorer over the last eight races and the South African was fastest in FP1, second in FP2. He’s 44 points adrift in the Championship but off to a top start, as was teammate Martin as the two also spent some time running together on track.
Fourth place, meanwhile, went to runaway Thai GP winner Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) and he was only 0.020 off the top three, with Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) for even closer company in fifth as the Brit was just 0.008 in arrears by the end of the day. The tiny gaps continued throughout the entirety of the top twenty, with only Marquez over a tenth clear of his closest rival.
Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) impressed in P6 ahead of another impressive Italian as Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Temporary Forward) took seventh, giving MV their best position on the timesheets. Manzi also suffered quite a wobble as he ran wide and later crashed, but wasn’t deposed from the top ten. Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) was eighth quickest at a venue that’s he’s reigned in the past, and the Swiss rider was another to suffer a bit of a moment.
Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) did the home fans proud on Friday and was second in FP1 and ninth overall despite not improving his laptime, ahead of Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) and Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP).
Looking for a familiar name in the top ten or so? The man second in the standings, Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40), had a more muted Friday at Motegi and took 12th, although he is amongst the provisional Q2 graduates should Saturday welcome rain. Iker Lecuona (monday.com American Racing) was P13 despite a moment, ahead of Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team).
Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) missed out despite some pace in FP1 as the Australian crashed twice on Friday, and both Beta Tools Speed Up teammate Jorge Navarro and Fabio Di Giannantonio also surprisingly stand to miss out on Q2 graduation, with ‘Diggia’ in P15 and Navarro in P19.
Andrea Migno (Mugen Race) is making a habit of going fastest on Friday of late and the Italian did it again in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, ending Day 1 on top of the combined timesheets ahead of Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing). With weather warnings that look set to affect the Twin Ring Motegi on Saturday, that top three could be the trio heading the troops into Q2, too.
Friday was a cloudy grey day but the rain stayed away and it began with title rivals Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) taking a 1-2 in FP1, despite some drama courtesy of Championship leader Dalla Porta. The Italian first shot a full second clear of the field before then losing control and suffering his first crash of the day near the end of the session, only narrowly avoided by teammate Ramirez.
No harm done, the battle rolled on but it wasn’t the two men top of the standings that would ultimately reign the day. Everyone went on to improve bar VNE Snipers’ Tony Arbolino and Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Sergio Garcia, with Migno snatching P1 late in the action to complete his Friday three-of-a-kind. Ramirez took second as top Honda at their home track, and McPhee had a top start to the weekend as he aims to home in on P3 overall by the end of the year.
In the final shuffle – as is customary when the rain could be on the way – it was red sectors everywhere and Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) took fourth, although the Czech veteran set exactly the same personal best lap as the man just behind him, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3).
Rookie Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) acquitted himself well – although he is on his second visit to Motegi despite rookie status – and he took sixth overall as one of the biggest improvers in FP2, just half a tenth off the Kornfeil/Rodrigo best efforts ahead of him. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was seventh by the end of play and the fastest home hero, but just a single thousandth behind Vietti.
Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power) put in an impressive Friday to take P8 ahead of Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia), with Buriram winner Albert Arenas (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team) completing the top ten as he edged out Dalla Porta by just 0.003.
Speaking of Dalla Porta, the Championship leader was again just ahead of key rival Canet in FP2, but the two are only 11th and 12th on the timesheets and the Leopard Racing rider again took a tumble at Turn 5 in the afternoon. They were both victim to late improvers but will be happy to at least have provisional places in Q2 wrapped up, where they’ll be joined by home heroes Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) in P13 and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) in P14.
One key name gone AWOL from that list is Tony Arbolino, who was P22 on Day 1 and that after struggling with an arm issue in Thailand. Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) made his return from injury in 19th, one place ahead of Jaume Masia (Mugen Race) doing the same, whereas Romano Fenati’s (VNE Snipers) comeback put him in P26.
Filip Salač (Redox PrüstelGP) suffered a big highside on Friday and is to be reviewed before FP3, and the Czech rider also ran afoul of the Stewards in FP1 and was given a pit lane start for riding slowly.
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