#JapaneseGP Motegi, Friday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Jack Miller set the pace in a Ducati Lenovo Team one-two in an extended opening practice session at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, but it could hardly have been closer at the top as Miller headed the three closest in the title fight: Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – and all four were split by just 0.068. Aragon GP winner Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), on the other hand, was just 14th-fastest after a late crash and he’ll be looking for more on Saturday.
With a special timetable in place for the Japanese GP, the premier class’s sole Friday practice session was an extended, 75-minute affair. While that gave teams and riders plenty of flexibility to work on race runs, the threat of rain in Saturday morning’s FP2 session, the only other running before the starting order for Q1 is set, meant that there was always going to be a big emphasis on single-lap pace. Even the appearance of the rain flag, 30 minutes in, for some very light showers was not enough to dissuade anyone, with riders coming on for fresh Michelin slicks at regular intervals.
Miller had a very brief spell at the top inside the first quarter-hour of the session, but it was not until his final run that he really laid down a marker. The ‘Thriller’ leapt from 17th to first with a 1:44.660 as he lapped Motegi with a brand-new soft front tyre and soft rear. Then, despite seemingly being held up by Team Suzuki Ecstar replacement Takuya Tsuda through the Hairpin, he went quicker again with the 1:44.509 which would not be beaten. Just for good measure, Miller clocked a 1:44.549 next time through which would be bettered only by Bagnaia.
By the time everyone had completed their time attacks, Miller was back on top, Bagnaia just behind, and Quartararo moved up with a 1:44.558. Aleix Espargaro, who was only 14th with a minute to go before the chequered flag came out, then pulled out a great lap to end the session fourth and just 0.068 seconds off the very best pace.
Fifth was also a fair bit to write home about as Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), who has never ridden around Motegi on a MotoGP™ bike before, rounded out the top five on a 1:44.645 and was top Independent Team rider to boot.
Then comes Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). At Honda’s home track, the number 93 claimed sixth with a 1:44.656 after also proving the initial pace-setter very early in the session. It was an encouraging result for the eight-time World Champion despite displaying obvious shoulder soreness when he got off his RC213V at the end of one run, in what is his second round back following surgery on his right arm. There was one mishap for MM93 though, when he got his leathers snagged on the onboard camera as a crew member wheeled his bike back into the Honda box. Teammate Pol Espargaro finished seventh on a 1:44.678.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira took eighth and ninth, respectively, while Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) rounded out the top 10.
Those who will be hoping weather forecasts of rain on Saturday morning don’t come true include Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in 11th and Bastianini in 14th. Both had late crashes, Zarco at Turn 7 after Bastianini had gone down at Turn 5, and for the latter it could prove to be a big blow to the title hopes which he had breathed life back into with his win just five days ago at Aragon. Splitting them in 13th was Alex Rins, who debuted some eye-catching new aerodynamic pieces (pictured below) on the tail unit of his Team Suzuki Ecstar entry.
Moto2™ World Championship leader Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) got his Motul Grand Prix of Japan off to the right start as he went fastest in FP1, putting in a 1:50.493 to finish just 0.084 ahead of Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) as light rain disrupted the day for the intermediate class. Their teammates were next up: Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Aragon winner Pedro Acosta was P3 and Fernandez’ key title rival Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) took P4 on home turf.
Ogura was first to get into the 1:51s and at one point he and Fernandez had identical fastest laps, before Fernandez was first into the 1:50s with less than eight minutes to go – except he wasn’t. That lap was outside of track limits, and it was instead Ogura who put in a 1:50.885. Chantra then set a 1:50.577 before Fernandez hit back with the 1:50.493, and that remained the fastest lap of the session. Acosta earned third with a late 1:50.783, and Filip Salac (Gresini Racing Moto2™) also joined the party with a 1:50.967 before more rain meant the pace dropped again.
Despite rain spitting, conditions improving and then worsening again over the course of the session, there wasn’t too much drama for the intermediate class. Sean Dylan Kelly (American Racing) crashed twice, Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) slid out and Keminth Kubo (Yamaha VR46 Master Camp) was the first off, riders all ok.
Two key headlines heading into Saturday see Aron Canet (Flexbox HP40) in 15th and former World Championship leader Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) in 21st on a 1:52.573, putting them both outside the top 14. They’ll have a nervous wait to find out whether there will be more rain on Saturday morning as Moto2™ head back out for FP2 from 9:55 (GMT +9), before qualifying from 13:30.
MT Helmets – MSI’s Diogo Moreira set the pace in FP1 for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, putting in a 1:57.252 in the first 40-minute session around the Mobility Resort Motegi. Leopard Racing’s Dennis Foggia was second on Honda home turf, with Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max’s Ayumu Sasaki third and the quickest home hero as he looks to take another GP victory.
World Championship leader Izan Guevara sits inside the top 14 cut-off for Q2 as it stands in P7, but fellow Autosolar GASGAS Aspar Team rider – and closest title rival – Sergio Garcia went 17th-quickest in FP1 and needs to find more on Saturday morning.
Despite overnight rain and grey clouds hanging overhead, it was a dry for start to the Friday afternoon session for the lightweight class, allowing some solid running. There were five crashers: Taiyo Furusato (Honda Team Asia), Elia Bartolini (QJMotor Avintita Racing Team) and teammate Nicola Carraro, Scott Ogden (VisionTrack Racing Team) and Lorenzo Fellon (SIC58 Squadra Corse). Fellon headed to the Medical Centre and will be reviewed before FP2 after suffering pain in his foot.
FP2 begins on Saturday morning at 9:00 (GMT +9), before qualifying begins at 12:35.