LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami put on a sensational showcase in Argentina after topping FP1 having initially been ruled out of the MotoGP weekend.
Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo headed an Espargaro brother assault in the top four with a stunning ride from Mooney VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi to fifth.
After four hours of junior class track action, MotoGP finally took to the Termas de Rio Hondo Circuit as the first hour of free practice fired up on Saturday afternoon. There was a surprise appearance from Idemitsu’s Nakagami after Friday’s cancellation and delays in action gave the Japanese rider the chance to both test negative and travel to Argentina in time for Saturday’s FP1 start. Repsol Honda’s Stefan Bradl also returning to the premier class grid as replacement for the re-injured Marc Marquez.
Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro took charge as the hour-long opener began, 1’41.040 the initial strike before his teammate Maverick Viñales arrived. It was a blink and you miss it visit however as both Espargaro and then Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins took their turns at the top. Quartarao sliding into second moments later as the times continued to tumble.
KTM’s Brad Binder set the pace after the opening ten minutes with a 1’40.590, before the reigning world champion hit back once again. Nakagami prying his fitness with a fourth place effort as LCR teammate Alex Marquez followed narrowly behind in sixth. Miguel Oliveira reinforced the Red Bull RC-16’s strong showing across the season openers as he circulated in eighth just three-tenths adrift of his garage mate. Repsol’s Pol Espargaro and Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin rounding out the top ten.
The multi-manufacturer battle continued as Joan Mir slid the second Suzuki into seventh with a quarter of the session dispatched. Nakagami taking charge overall as the pace continued to increase with Franky Morbidelli joining the party in fifth on the factory M1.
VR46 duo Bezzecchi and Luca Marini circulated in 13th and 14th despite the pair having no bikes or equipment just nine hours earlier. Gresini Racing’s Enea Bastianini sitting 16th having suffered a similar start to the weekend.
Pecco Bagnaia launched to fourth on the factory Ducati, as his 2021 nemesis Quartararo battled Binder for honours overall. Mir, Oliveira and Viñales dropping the Lenovo rider to seventh as the session got into its groove and Quartararo set the first 1’39 of the weekend.
The halfway stage saw Jack Miller advance to second on the Desmosedici 2022, Pol Espargaro placing his Honda RC213V into the top four before Rins displaced him on his way to third. Morbidelli returning to the top six challenge as less than half a second covered the ten fastest riders.
Aprilia continued to shine as Viñales claimed second on his 11th lap. Espargaro hitting the top moments later with his younger brother following suit for second as the Noale factory sat first and fourth with factory Honda and Yamaha in between. Ducati, Suzuki, and KTM closely behind.
Espargaro consolidated his dominance with a 1’39.509 lap before saving a moment on the RS-GP at turn one with 22 minutes to go. Bastianini finding his rhythm as he bested Martin, then Morbidelli for 12th just eight-tenths adrift.
The Suzukis of Rins and Mir maintained a strong performance around the 4.8km layout claiming second and sixth as the final quarter prepared. Johann Zarco suffering opposing fortunes from the edge of the top 15 alongside his Pramac Ducati teammate, before the Frenchman arrived to eighth on his 19th lap.
Tech3 KTM’s Remy Gardner circulated as top rookie with ten minutes to go. The Australian running 18th and in the midst of a Mooney VR46 sandwich just a second shy of Espargaro’s fastest effort after 17 laps.
Nakagami was back in front as the final seven minutes counted down. Mir and Rins trailing the Aprilia man in the top four with Bagnaia and Zarco narrowly behind as Quartararo dropped to seventh. The two Ducati riders bickered for position next time around as Zarco won out and his countryman advanced the pace out front on the Yamaha M1 with a 1’39.216.
A sensational effort saw Bezzecchi up to seventh with less than five minutes left on the clock, Rins challenging Quartararo but the reigning champion was on a mission as he improved again thanks to a 1’39.155.
Binder returned to the front with top five pace as Bezzecchi continued to climb, just 0.068s behind the KTM. The South African improving again to third before Oliveira stole the position and Aleix Espargaro split the teammates seconds later.
Bezzecchi stormed the Mooney VR46 into second with a minute to go, both Espargaro brothers and Nakagami spoiling the party as he was dropped down to fifth with the LCR man back in front.
Rookies continued to shine further back as Gardner completed the session in 13th, with Fabio Di Giannantonio 19th - having suffered a technical issue in the opening minutes. Darryn Binder claiming 21st, three places higher than his experienced WithU RNF teammate Andrea Dovizoso.