LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami took the opening MotoGP practice of the StyrianGP, denying a dominant performance by Suzuki’s Joan Mir in the closing seconds.
The reigning champion had been out front from the off - a position he maintained throughout the 45-minute session - before the Japanese rider spoiled his plans, Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins completing the top-four.
The Styrian MotoGP weekend began under the cloud of Valentino Rossi’s retirement announcement, the Petronas Yamaha rider calling time on his 25 year career with the second half of the 2021 season.
Rossi was joined in the Petronas garage by the returning face of Cal Crutchlow as the Brit began his first of three replacement rides for the injured Franky Morbidelli, while fellow legend, Dani Pedrosa, joined the action wildcarding for KTM as first free practice took to the Austrian track.
Joan Mir led the way as the initial times came in, Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco looking to challenge as Maverick Viñales joined the top-five. The Spaniard bettered his team-mate for second after 15-minutes on track as Aleix Espargaro displaced Takaaki Nakagami for fifth. The Ducati’s of Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia sandwiched Alex Marquez, in eighth, as Pedrosa circulated in 10th on his competitive debut aboard the RC-16.
The halfway stage saw the top-five retain their positions as Marc Marquez joined his old team-mate on the fringes of the top-10 before advancing to second with his 14th lap of the morning. Rossi circulated in 15th, with Crutchlow 22nd as the pair got to grips with the 4.3km layout.
A mechanical saw Pedrosa sidelined as the closing 15-minutes got underway, teammate Miguel Oliveira suffering a highside on a hot-lap at turn three. The Portuguese rider sitting winded at the side of the track as the clock counted down before being sent to the medical centre for checks.
Mir’s dominance at the head of the standings, with his seventh-lap-effort of 1’24.428 was challenged by Nakagami as the LCR man shaved 0.033s off the pace, before the time was deleted and he returned to fifth. Pol Espargaro improved his morning performance to sit seventh with 10 to go, Miller and the younger Marquez separating him from his Aprilia-liveried brother before Bagnaia joined his teammate in ninth.
The closing minutes saw Espargaro push the RS-GP into fifth before Alex Rins joined the fight, in fourth. The pair continued their time-attacks to top the standings with the Aprilia claiming the top-spot before the second Suzuki of Mir returned to the lead with a 1’24.183. Espargaro matching the time with exact precision seconds later.
The battle continued as the final seconds fell away. Mir took charge once again, this time just 0.004s from Nakagami, as the chequered flag came out but the Japanese rider wasn’t done yet - a 1’23.805 taking the session for LCR Honda. Suzuki secured two of the top-four positions as Espargaro split Mir from his team-mate, the Repsol riders claiming fifth and sixth as Yamaha’s Viñales and Quartararo dropped to seventh and eighth. Zarco headed the Ducati train from Miller in 10th as Pedrosa spoiled the pattern taking 11th from Bagnaia.
Alex Marquez sat 13th from Luca Marini and Oliveira with Rossi finishing FP1 in 16th.