Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) returns from injury this weekend, and what better way to celebrate than taking pole? In a rain-soaked qualifying for Moto3™, the Italian played the perfect game of risk vs reward to come out on top and take his eighth pole position, all after coming through Q1. He’s joined on the front row by Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0), who took his first podium last time out, with home hero Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) completing the front row.
After a morning of rain, there was no chance of a dry out before Q1 began and for some it almost seemed to prove an advantage being in the first session – chance to test the conditions. Heading through were Lopez quickest and Antonelli second, joined by Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) in the fight for pole.
Once Q2 began, Lopez and Garcia were immediately up at the top again – with both already having been out on track and gained some experience of the conditions. In the end though, it was Antonelli who struck back late, the Italian able to pull out just under a tenth on Lopez and no one else in the same three-tenth postcode. The number 23 couldn’t improve on his final effort, but he’d already done enough to deny Lopez and P2 remains the Spaniard’s best qualifying so far.
Behind Suzuki, who took the first front row for a Japanese rider in the lightweight category at Motegi since Tomoyoshi Koyama in 2007, Yurchenko and Garcia took P4 and P5 respectively, making it all Q1 graduates within the top five as they both put in their best qualifying performances to date. Championship leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) had a slightly less bumpy Saturday to take P6 and complete the front row, a couple of places ahead of key rival Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), who was eighth as veteran campaigner Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) split the two contenders.
Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) was ninth, ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) by just 0.027, with John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) only another couple of hundredths off too. Thai GP winner Albert Arenas (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team), Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power) and Andrea Migno (Mugen Race) completed the fastest fifteen, with home heroes Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia), Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) losing out, the latter by way of a crash.
So that’s the grid decided for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, and it could make for a very interesting Sunday if the weather changes again. Tune in then when Moto3™ go racing at the slightly later time of 12:00 (GMT +9).
1 – Niccolo Antonelli (ITA – Honda) 2’09.293
2 – Alonso Lopez (SPA – Honda) +0.086
3 – Tatsuki Suzuki (SPA – Honda) +0.333
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