Ducati Lenovo’s Jack Miller topped a factory one-two at Mobility Resort Motegi as MotoGP action returned to Japan on Friday.
Pecco Bagnaia trailed his teammate by just 0.028s as the extended free practice concluded with reigning champion Fabio Quartararo equally close for third.
A 75-minute MotoGP practice fired up on Friday as the rain threatened but held off, for now. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Quartararo set the pace after four laps of the Motegi circuit with a 1’46.072. Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez sitting second from Miller with Prima Pramac’s Johann Zarco half a second off the early pace in fourth.
Miller was the first to set a 1’45 as he took charge just before the hour mark. Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins just shy of the benchmark with his seventh attempt to better the reigning champion by a mere 0.017s.
Tetsuta Nagashima and Takuya Tsuda began their respective wildcards for Honda and Suzuki from 20th and 25th respectively. The latter lining up in place of the injured Joan Mir with fellow home hero Takaaki Nakagami heading to the track with his own complications following his Aragon hand accident and subsequent surgery at the start of the week.
Quartararo was back at the top after ten laps thanks to a 1’45.807 with Monster Energy teammate Franky Morbidelli running fourth, three-tenths adrift. Bagnaia sat sixth from KTM’s Miguel Oliveira while Maverick Viñales got back into the groove on the Aprilia from eighth.
Aragon winner Enea Bastianini led WithU Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow on the edge of the top ten before the Brit ran in hot halfway round a personal best. Zarco continuing his climb with two laps in quick succession on his way to fourth.
Crutchlow was up to ninth as the Yamaha test rider’s experience came to the fore. Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro instantly bettering on mid 1’46 pace as a second covered the top 16 before the rain returned after half an hour of action. The majority of the pack heading straight to the pits with a handful remaining on track as they assessed conditions.
Half an hour to go and both Rins - sporting interesting new areo ‘antenna’ on the rear of his GSX-RR - and Zarco took turns at the top. The Frenchman setting a 1’45.309 as Nagashima became the first faller of the day on the HRC wildcard. Espargaro briefly taking charge on the Aprilia next time around before Zarco returned to the front.
Viñales headed a Ducati trio from sixth as Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini split the factory pairing of Miller and Bagnaia. Marquez rounding out the top ten battle as Saturday’s increased threat of rain intensified the importance in the closing stages.
A revitalised Morbidelli found the Italian ahead of his Yamaha teammate in the top six after 18 attempts. Pramac’s Jorge Martin slotting into seventh as Viñales advanced to fourth before title-rivals Quartararo and Bagnaia found third and sixth respectively. Morbidelli continuing his run as he bettered his VR46 Academy cohort next time around.
Quartararo hit the front for a French one-two with a 1’45.029 and 20 minutes to go. Bastianini joining the fight from fifth moments later before taking charge overall with his next effort and the first 1’44 of the weekend.
Nakagami circulated sixth as Oliveira claimed third while Pol Espargaro outpaced his team captain ten placed behind. Crutchlow rising to the challenge with a 1’45.6 as the Brit took sixth in the closing quarter of an hour.
Marquez proved his mettle with the fourth fastest effort as the clock counted down. Rins moving the target by a tight 0.017s margin before repeating his achievement thanks to a 1’44.913.
Marini was the next to improve as he returned to top ten contention with Morbidelli dropped outside for the concluding ten minutes. The elder Italian back in the top five mix as the clock hit six to go with Miller the man on throve out front.
The Australian set two rapid laps in quick succession as he commanded the standings with a 1’44.509. Crutchlow consolidating his place in seventh as Marquez swept up to second. Zarco emulating the move as he returned to third from a late-charging Nakagami before Bagnaia made it a Ducati factory one-two.
Bastianini crashed out at turn five as Quartararo rode to third - less than half a tenth covering the leading trio as the session drew to a close. Pol Espargaro joined his teammate in the top five as the positions continued to shuffle with Martin holding the gateway time in tenth and Oliveira, Morbidelli and Crutchlow demoted out ahead of both Aprilias.
Marini was on a roll as the VR46 rider took fourth. Oliveira making his own improvements four places behind as KTM teammate Brad Binder bettered for position and Aleix Espargaro advanced ahead of the Italian.
Darryn Binder brought out the yellow flags with a turn five crash, from 18th, in the final minute. Viñales securing the final provisional promotion place as the chequered flag came out with Zarco Nakagami and Rins outside of the top ten after the Frenchman’s final effort also ended prematurely.