Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Phillip Island:
If you skipped the previous FP3 sessions, you would never guess the struggles of the premier class judging by the clear and sunny skies that welcomed the Moto2 grid. Back to slicks it was but the intermediate class still had to face jumpers & gloves conditions.
On a drying track, not only the times tumbled but also the riders themselves, with some fast crashes for the likes of Iker Lecuona, Lorenzo Baldassarri or Axel Pons. Miguel Oliveira escaped that faith to set himself at the top of the timesheets early in the session and holding station through the brief lull caused by some new drops of rain falling in the final fifteen minutes. The Portuguese rider went on to improve his own time and put a gap of six tenths into the pursuers.
Takaaki Nakagami carried his momentum from this morning into FP2, topping a strange and crash-filled second session of free practice for the Moto2 class. Nakagami pressed home his advantage, topping the timesheets by seven tenths of a second this afternoon, a similar gap to this morning.
Dominique Aegerter ended the day in second, a couple of tenths quicker than Pecco Bagnaia and Alex Marquez. Championship leader Franco Morbidelli posted the seventh quickest time, a second off the pace of Nakagami, while his main rival Tom Luthi was eleventh, 1.3 seconds off Nakagami's pace.
The illusion of warmth continued for the intermediate class, the rays of sun reflecting in polished fairings not conveying the low temperatures and windy conditions. Nevertheless, the weekend started much like we would all like to see it continuing, with a minor gap between the two title contenders at the top of the timesheets.
Takaaki Nakagami put himself into contention past the halfway mark of the session, the Japanese rider taking over the lead by two tenths of a second. Morbidelli was first to react but Nakagami went ahead and improved on his time a few more times to turn that gap into a chasm, seven tenths of a second separating him from the pretenders in the closing stages of FP1.
Motegi was tempestuous, in every sense of the word. It was as if the elements were conspiring to become a metaphor for the 2017 MotoGP season. The weather is always a factor in an outdoor sport such as motorcycle racing, and in Japan, the elements threw almost everything they had at MotoGP, the cold and the rain leaving standing water all around the track, throwing yet another spanner into the works.
The teams had seen almost every variation of wet conditions during practice, from soaking wet to a dry line forming, so they at least had an idea of what to expect. What they feared was that each rider, each team had their own Goldilocks zone, the precise amount of water on the track in which their bike worked best. For one rider, too little water meant they would eat up their tires, whereas for another, a track that was merely damp was just right. For one rider, too much water meant not being able to get enough heat into the tires to get them to work and provide grip. For another, a lot of water meant they could keep the temperature in their tires just right, and really harness the available traction.
One man seemed immune to this Goldilocks trap. Whatever the weather, however much water there was on the track, Marc Márquez was there or thereabouts. He was quick in the wet, he was quick in the merely damp. So confident was he at Motegi that he even gambled on slicks for his second run in qualifying, which meant he missed out on pole and had to start from third. But would it make any difference? Would anyone be able to stop Marc Márquez from taking another step towards the championship?
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi:
CHAMPIONSHIP: MOTOGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
TEAM: MARINELLI RIVACOLD SNIPERS TEAM
RIDERS: FENATI N. 5 - DANILO N. 95
BIKE: HONDA NSF250RW
DATE: 15 OCTOBER 2017
CIRCUIT: TWIN RING MOTEGI - JAPAN
Dominique Aegerter has been stripped of his victory in the Misano Moto2 race for use of illegal engine oil. The oil was sent for testing directly after the Misano race, and found to be in contravention of the rules, which mandate the use of oil from the official supplier to Moto2, LIQUI MOLY.
Moto2 standings after Motegi: