Dovizioso leads into Saturday as Marquez finishes Day 1 fourth
Jack Miller in top 10 claiming eighth
Andrea Dovizioso said in Thursday’s pre-event Press Conference that he had a fairly single-minded mission this weekend – force key rival Marc Marquez to wait that little bit longer to celebrate his seventh crown.
Dovizioso followed this up by topping Day 1 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, while Dani Pedrosa set the fastest FP2 time on a drying Twin Ring Motegi, where Dovi and Marc Marquez opted to stay in the garage for the second session of the weekend.
A sprinkling of rain during the afternoon meant only 11 riders ventured out in the opening half an hour of FP2, with Jack Miller and Scott Redding the first riders to head out on slick tyres. By the end of the session it was the ‘Little Samurai’ who would set the quickest time – a 1:48.136 the benchmark, with Redding and Danilo Petrucci completing the top three in FP2.
The man Dovizioso beat to P1 was instead Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) as the Brit proved fastest Honda on Friday, taking second place and the honour of top Independent Team rider. That was a close battle however, with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) just a fraction further back to complete the top three and end Day 1 as fastest Yamaha – making it three different machines and three men split by just 0.125 at the top, with Marquez lurking only a further 0.015 in arrears.
In P5, Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) wasn’t so far off either – and the showing was a good one for the Iwata marque after some struggles of late. Their much improved pace at Buriram appears to have brought some positives to Motegi too, with the Spaniard moving up late on to complete the top five and teammate Valentino Rossi likewise within that all-important top ten on Friday.
Nine-time World Champion Rossi was ninth overall and says he reserves a little more judgment on the all-out optimism of his teammate but it was a good start to the race weekend that sees Yamaha on home turf in Japan and yet also in the enemy territory of Honda…
Rossi was in a second, close group in the latter half of the top ten that was headed by Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone. The Italian took P6 overall to please the Hamamatsu factory, although teammate Alex Rins had a tougher day down in P19. Their test rider, wildcard and 2014 WorldSBK Champion Sylvain Guintoli, was P21 but he made more headlines with his continued work towards the 2019 bike.
Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) followed up his win in the minibike event on Thursday with seventh on Friday, just ahead of fellow Independent Team Ducati rider Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) as the Aussie edged ahead of Rossi. Behind the rider from Tavullia it was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who completed the top ten, and teammate Scott Redding took an impressive P12.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), meanwhile, was the fastest rookie fresh from a renewed contract for 2019 and he took P13, ahead of a Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) of much-improved fitness and an ever-impressive P15 from Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing wildcard veteran Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
Attention now turns to the weather forecasts to see if riders like Pedrosa, Petrucci, Rins and others can have a chance of penetrating the top ten in FP3 before qualifying commences on Saturday at 14:10 local time (GMT +9). So far it’s Dovi who holds the advantage, but you can never count out a certain number 93…
Andrea Dovizioso – P1
“This morning we immediately started off very well in the FP1 session and my feeling was very good. For the race we will still have to improve but starting off with such a good base on Friday morning really makes a difference. We already know what to work on and the braking is surely the most important aspect in this circuit. We didn’t go out in the afternoon, even though we wanted to try a few things, but the track conditions made it too much of a risk to try and push hard. In any case our Desmosedici GP works particularly well here at Motegi and tomorrow we hope to find the track dry so as to be able to work for the race.”
Cal Crutchlow – P2
“Today was a good day, we felt quite comfortable in FP1. We had to assess the situation and the track condition was not too bad and our times were competitive. We still need to find a little bit in one of the sectors, but overall we are happy. This afternoon we thought the risk outweighed the reward and we didn’t enter the circuit for FP2 because we think the forecast for the rest of the weekend looks dry. We’ll continue to work over the night with the team, and with HRC, and we look forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow in qualifying.”
Johann Zarco – P3
“It has been a very good first day in Japan, I’m happy. In the dry conditions, I got a strong pace immediately and this helped me a lot to relax myself and do some good work. In the afternoon, the conditions were tricky with some rain, therefore I was lucky to have been fast in FP1. It was not full wet, but we had some patches on the track. I did laps in both conditions with the rain tyres and the slick and in both cases I had a good control of the bike. Now I’m looking forward to tomorrow, to show a fast pace again and be competitive for the Qualifying.”
Marc Marquez – P4
“This morning in the dry, the feeling was good, and with half-and-half conditions in the afternoon, we decided not to lap, even though I’m normally strong in that situation. I felt competitive and strong in FP1 and I was able to ride in a good way. That said, while it’s a bit to early to understand where we are, I saw that Dovi is going to be fast this weekend. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, as we’ll keep the same mentality as always and keep working. We need to adjust many details, such as acceleration and braking stability. We have margin for improvement.”
Maverick Viñales – P5
“It’s been a good day. Honestly, it was really positive because we confirmed that the improvement we made in Thailand was due to the set-up changes and not due to the tyres we used there. This weekend’s tyre works completely different from those in Thailand, but we still came close to the top in the morning, so I’m pleased about today. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I think we have to go ahead with this set-up to try to be better on track. In the afternoon I was trying to work a lot on the wet tyres. This was important because we struggled last year, but this year the bike is better on the wet. The balance of the bike seems to work better both in the dry and the wet. Today we also wore a pink shirt to fight against breast cancer. It’s a nice initiative and it’s something I want to do, because if we can get a bit more support for those who suffer from it, that’s always good.”
Jack Miller – P8
“I’m satisfied with what we did in FP1. The feeling with the bike was good. In FP1 I could have done even better but on my best lap I made a mistake. In the end we did some good laps also in FP2 with the slicks and this gives me confidence in view of tomorrow.”
This morning Jorge Lorenzo only completed two laps of the Japanese circuit before returning to the pits to stop because of pain in his left wrist, which was injured in a crash two weeks ago at Buriram. The Spanish rider yesterday underwent a CT scan in Utsunomiya Hospital which unfortunately was not positive for his ongoing recovery from the hairline fracture, and announced he would not be racing in Japan.
“After doing as much as possible to quickly recover from the injury to my wrist caused by the crash in Thailand, today I tried to go out on track to see how I felt on the bike. Yesterday my feelings weren’t very positive and unfortunately today I had confirmation not only of the pain that the riding was giving me, but also that there was a serious risk of making the fracture worse. It’s a real pity not to be able to race here because Motegi is a circuit that I like a lot, it adapts well to the characteristics of the bike and I wanted to score a good result. I feel really bad for my team and for the fans, but now I only have to be patient and try and recover as best as possible to be ready in Australia or in Malaysia.”
Free Practice Combined Classification – MotoGP of Japan 2018
ESPARGARO Aleix SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +1.168
PEDROSA Dani SPA Repsol Honda Team +1.210
REDDING Scott GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +1.496
NAKAGAMI Takaaki JPN LCR Honda +1.498
ESPARGARO Pol SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.501
NAKASUGA Katsuyuki JPN Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing +1.514
SIMEON Xavier BEL Reale Avintia Racing +1.640
PETRUCCI Danilo ITA Alma Pramac Racing +1.696
SMITH Bradley GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.779
RINS Alex SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar +1.829
MORBIDELLI Franco ITA EG 0,0 Marc VDS +2.070
Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors) was Friday’s fastest man at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, setting a 1:52.159 to head ever-consistent Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) by 0.119 seconds. Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP 40) completed the top three in Motegi, 0.231 back, as the Spaniard continues to impress following his return to the Moto2 World Championship.
After FP1 was hindered by rain, the intermediate class riders were able to get a solid session under their belts before another light shower in the afternoon then brought proceedings to a premature end with ten minutes remaining. Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) completes Friday’s on track action with a solid P4, 0.358 from Lecuona’s benchmark after finish P10 in the morning, with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) rounding out the top five – a significant leap up the timesheets for the number 41 rider after finishing FP1 in P16.
The South African finished 0.075 ahead of teammate and Championship protagonist Miguel Oliveira and it was P6 for the Portuguese rider, with Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) getting his home Grand Prix off to a solid start in P7 after finishing the damp session in P4, just 0.003 behind Oliveira.
FP1’s quickest rider Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) completes Friday in P8, just ahead of EG 0,0 Marc VDS’ Alex Marquez. The three-time Motegi winner recovered well after suffering a huge highside at Turn 8 at the end of FP1 to finish P9 in FP2, and Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) completed the top ten.
In terms of the Championship, it’s Bagnaia who heads into Saturday with the advantage over Oliveira, but the unpredictable Japanese weather could well spring a surprise or two come qualifying. Can Lecuona transfer Friday’s pace into a first front row start? Or will it be all change at the front once again? Find out from 15:05 local time (GMT +9).
Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) ended Day 1 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan on top of the combined timesheets, with the Czech rider fastest in FP1 and rain then stopping anyone beating the benchmark in the afternoon.
His teammate, Championship contender Marco Bezzecchi, made it a clean sweep for the team on Friday as he went quickest in the damp. Bezzecchi’s main rivals, Championship leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and teammate Fabio DI Giannantonio, ended the first day of action in Japan in P16 and P18 respectively – setting up an interesting shuffle ahead of qualifying on Saturday.
Back to the front and it’s Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) in P2 overall, ahead of the Leopard Racing duo of Enea Bastianini and compatriot Lorenzo Dalla Porta. Fifth place in the dry was John McPhee (CIP – Green Power) on board his KTM, with Bezzecchi sixth on the overall times despite his FP2-topping heroics.
Philipp Oettl (Sudmetal Schedl GP Racing) heads into Saturday in seventh thanks to his morning effort, with Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers Team) eighth overall and adding a solid P7 in the damp, too.
Rounding out the top ten after the opening day’s action are Marcos Ramirez (Bester Capital Dubai) and Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team Moto3) in some good form for both, but it was P15 and P17 in the damp for the two Spaniards after tougher conditions for FP2. Check out qualifying on Saturday from 12:55 (GMT +9) to see how the pack may shuffle once again…
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