Pol Espargaro kept up the pressure on championship leader Marc Marquez with a superb ride to pole position in Japan. The Pons rider trails Marquez by 48 points but stands a great chance of closing the gap tomorrow, especially with his teammate Esteve Rabat alongside them on the front row.

Marquez had already created headlines in the morning practice session after coming together with Mika Kallio but that didn’t seem to affect him when qualifying got underway. The championship leader set a 1:51.193 at the end of his first run to take provisional pole with Espargaro two tenths back in second.

While Marquez was falling out with another Moto2 rider, Esteve Rabat was setting the pace in final practice and the 23 year old moved up to second twenty minutes from the end, fractionally faster than his teammate. Pol restored normal order in the Pons team though with a 1:51.130 seven minutes later, a blistering lap which not only lifted him above Rabat, but Marquez too.

Marquez’s challenge appeared to be fading but Rabat was still chasing a maiden Moto2 pole position and jumped back into second, 0.026s behind Espargaro. Esteve was on a mission and continued to set impressive sector times, only to lose out in the final sector on his best attempt with an off-track excursion at turn eleven.

As a result, Espargaro seemed safe in pole position but he broke into the 1:50s anyway to seemingly put the result beyond doubt. Marquez had other ideas though and saved his best lap of the weekend for the final minute of qualifying to snatch second from Rabat and had Espargaro not improved late on, the 1:51.023 would’ve earned him pole.

Scott Redding produced another excellent performance for Marc VDS to qualify fourth, giving the team a welcome boost after Kallio’s morning incident. The Finn didn’t enjoy qualifying any more after finishing fifteenth. Thomas Luthi will start fifth ahead of Johann Zarco while a last-gasp effort from Bradley Smith saw him pip Julian Simon for seventh. Reigning 125cc champion Nicolas Terol secured ninth on the grid, keeping up his recent upturn in form, while the returning Toni Elias completed the top ten.

Andrea Iannone’s awful weekend took another bad turn with a crash during qualifying, keeping him down in eighteenth while Gino Rea’s tough season continued with 28th the best he could manage.