There are few things Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) has not yet achieved, but one of them was a premier class pole position at the Twin Ring Motegi. After achieving the feat in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, the number 93 ticks another box and has now been on pole in MotoGP™ at every track on the current calendar. That’s every track he’s raced at in the premier class with one exception: Laguna Seca, as now-Honda test rider Stefan Bradl stole the honours in Marquez’ rookie year of 2013. No one was going to do the same at Motegi this season, although Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and teammate Fabio Quartararo came closest, cutting a huge deficit to less than two tenths to complete the front row.
As expected, Saturday dawned wet at the Twin Ring Motegi and that meant direct entry to Q2 was already set, leaving the likes of Morbidelli and Quartararo to the task of getting in some wet track time in FP3. By the time Q1 came around later in the day, however, the track was dry enough for slicks and the fight was on. In the end, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) headed through, with home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) the man to lose out by just hundredths.
Once Q2 was underway, Marquez set about creating the goalposts and then moving them. On his third lap around the reigning Champion was a second clear of the field before Quartararo just got inside that bracket; initially the only man to do so. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) then managed to get within half a second and Morbidelli within seven tenths, however, the latter making a clear statement of intent before the majority pulled in to the pits.
On their seconds runs, Quartararo came out guns blazing to get within three tenths before Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) took the baton to attack and inched closer, but Marquez seemed unstoppable and about to tick another box in his record book. On his final lap, the number 93 shaved another few hundredths off his laptime too, and ultimately it would prove enough. Morbidelli then shot up to second on his last lap; Quartararo up to third – pushing Viñales back down to P4. That’s three Yamahas in the top four, however.
Cal Crutchlow, meanwhile, moved from Q1 to P5 to make it two Hondas in the top five after a last dash improvement, with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) completing the second row in sixth and top Ducati. The next Borgo Panigale machine was the Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso in seventh as he heads up Row 3 – with ‘DesmoDovi’ only having qualified worse at Motegi twice before: 2017 and his rookie season in the class. But in 2017, from ninth on the grid, he did go on to win…so all is far from lost. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) lines up alongside his teammate, just 0.017 in arrears.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) pulled off a stunner for Noale factory Aprilia in ninth, and he set exactly the same fastest lap as nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who found it tougher going than his fellow M1 riders. Rossi is tenth and it’s only the third time on his 20 visits to the track in the premier class he has failed to qualify on the first three rows.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was 11th and just 0.042 behind the ‘Doctor’, although the Spaniard did get the better of rookie teammate Joan Mir…by 0.016, the second smallest margin in the top ten. That should make for an interesting battle on Sunday, although the whole grid looks set to assure that – especially as better weather is expect at the Twin Ring Motegi.
Will Quartararo wrap up Rookie of the Year? Can Marquez almost single-handedly make Honda the constructors’ Champions? Or will the likes of Dovizioso, Viñales and Rins blast forward to spoil the party? Find out in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan at the slightly later local time of 15:00 (GMT +9).
1 – Marc Marquez (SPA – Honda) 1’45.763
2 – Franco Morbidelli* (ITA – Yamaha) +0.132
3 – Fabio Quartararo* (FRA – Yamaha) +0.181
*Independent Team rider
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