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.
That’s it from an interesting opening day at Motegi, as Quartararo’s Thursday assertion stands true: he doesn’t seem to pay much heed as to whether it’s meant to be a Honda or Yamaha track. But then, neither did the rest of the Iwata marque machines…can they keep that form on Saturday? Will Marquez blast back to take pole at the last venue he has yet to reign in the premier class? Or…will the weather steal the headlines? Find out who’s heading through to Q2 at 10:50 local time (GMT+9) as FP3 begins slightly later than normal, before qualifying from 15:05 to decide the grid for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan.
1 – Fabio Quartararo* (FRA – Yamaha) 1’44.764
2 – Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) +0.321
3 – Marc Marquez (SPA – Honda) +0.336
4 – Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) +0.650
5 – Valentino Rossi (ITA – Yamaha) +0.702
*Independent Team rider
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