Zarco Johann of Monster Yamaha Tech3 took a shocking pole in wet conditions even as reigning world champion Marc Marquez set the third fastest time of the day in the Japanese Grand Prix at the Motegi track here on Saturday.
The Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez, the championship leader, switched from rain tyres to slicks for his second time attack and the 24-year-old Spaniard was unable to improve on the time that had until then put him on provisional pole. Italian Petrucci Danilo of Octo Pramac Racing set the second fastest time for P2 with a 1’53.787’’.
Nonetheless, Marquez 1’53.903” time, set despite a big slide in the final corner, was quick enough to earn him his 11th front-row start of this season, less than half a second from pole-setter Johann Zarco.
For rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) it was a shock last minute pole position, his second in the permier class as he took the honour late in the session and no further laps able to challenge the Frenchman. Petrucci second came in wet-but-drying track conditions.
With a dry line beginning to appear by the start of MotoGP™ Q2 session, it was the KTMs of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith moving through to join the top ten in the shootout – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) sending immediate shockwaves through the field as he headed out on slicks straight away. That would prove the wrong decision, and the nine-time World Champion was then forced back in to switch.
Marquez, meanwhile, was 1.6 seconds clear at the top when he decided to try slicks – despite a moment on the wet tyres on what would prove his fastest lap. That left a target on P1 for many in the field still pushing hard on wets, with Zarco best able to take the challenge to the reigning Champion and Petrucci then taking second – with Marquez locking out the front row. A gamble gone wrong, but a heads up on how quickly Motegi dries out in case of a flag to flag?
Heading the second row and fulfilling his Friday target is Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), who just missed out on lining up further forward in the latter stages of his last lap, with Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) taking fifth on his final push and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) locking out Row 2.
The KTMs were next up, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) initially taking a provisional front row before times began to further tumble, and by the flag it was teammate Bradley Smith who just pipped the Spaniard. The Austrian factory machines will start seventh and eighth; Espargaro only 0.034 in arrears.
Title challenger Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) had a more difficult session and ended Q2 in P9, with Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone taking tenth and eleventh. Rossi, after his early gamble on slicks, lines up in P12.
After going third fastest in Q1, Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) will line up behind the nine-time World Champion, and just ahead of the second factory Yamaha Maverick Viñales, who had a tough Saturday. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) starts fifteenth after missing out on Q2 following a moment at the final corner on his last lap in Q1.
Marc Marquez said: The result is good but clearly the slicks today weren’t the right choice, as it was a bit too early for them. Anyway, you always have to look at the positive side of things, which in this case, firstly is that we’re still on the front row, as we had already done a very good lap time on rain tyres; and secondly is that we managed to understand a few things in case of a flag-to-flag race. I’m also happy I saved a crash when I set my fastest time and avoided my team missing dinner tonight!
Now it’s time to race. Wet, dry, something in between…it all remains to be seen at Motegi, with the title contenders split throughout the field and some dark horses beginning to emerge. Tune in at 14:00 (GMT +9) on Sunday to see the Japanese GP kick the flyaways into gear.
eom/with inputs from Repsol Honda and MotoGP releases