Man on a mission: Dovizioso fastest on Friday at Motegi

2018-10-19 09:25
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) said in Thursday’s pre-event Press Conference that he had a fairly single-minded mission this weekend: force key rival Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) to wait that little bit longer to celebrate his seventh crown. After going fastest on Day 1 at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan it’s therefore so far so good for the Italian, with ‘DesmoDovi’ just over a tenth clear in a dry FP1 and wet weather then putting paid to any improvements. But what of Marquez? It was far from a difficult start for the reigning Champion but the number 93 began Honda’s home Grand Prix in P4 overall.

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.

Meanwhile 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.

So who’s missing? One key name is Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), who withdrew from the event following just one exit in FP1. The former Motegi winner was in too much pain from his injuries sustained at Buriram in that FP2 crash. Another missing from the top echelons was fellow Japanese GP ace Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), who missed out on the top ten and was P11, but the ‘Little Samurai’ did top the wet FP2 session. Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) is likewise a rider who had a tougher start to the weekend, and surely one of those to watch on Saturday.

That’s it from a half-dry, half-wet Twin Ring Motegi on Friday – tune back in on Saturday morning for more practice and then for qualifying from 14:10 (GMT +9). Then we’ll have the grid for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan with the Championship on the line – and anything can and will happen.

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Lecuona leads the charge in Japan

A man in form: the Swiss Innovative Investors rider shone in Japan
Spaniard sets the pace in FP2 to finish ahead of Bagnaia and Fernandez on Day 1

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).
Kornfeil capitalises to go quickest on Day 1

How many FP1s? It's a good few in a row Kornfeil has now topped
Czech rider's FP1 time ensures he ends Friday on top as rain hits FP2

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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