Marc Marquez claimed his seventh pole in nine races as the Moto2 championship battle continued to swing his way at Motegi. The Catalunya Caixa Repsol rider has reduced Stefan Bradl's points lead in each of the last seven races and with the German back on the third row, tomorrow may see Marquez finally overhaul him.
Marquez had been strangely quiet through free practice but came to life as soon as qualifying got underway, taking provisional pole on a 1:53.018. Thomas Luthi, pacesetter in two of the three practice sessions, signalled his intentions early on too with a 1:52.558 but Marquez struck back to regain top spot by a third of a second.
With the top two holding a clear advantage, the fight for the final slot on the front row was fascinating and fiercely competitive. Bradl moved into third at the halfway stage, albeit six tenths off pole, but he was soon pushed down to fourth by Bradley Smith as the Briton looked to back up his strong practice form.
In the closing stages, Andrea Iannone also sprung into contention and came from nowhere to snatch second three minutes from time. He wasn't the only one making improvements and as the clock ticked into the final minute, five riders were all threatening Marquez's pole time.
Smith and Bradl were setting red sectors in the first half of the lap but faded as the lap came to a close. Iannone also made an error on his final lap which would soon prove costly as Luthi retook second. None of them could match Marquez though and the 18 year old confirmed pole position with a 1:52.067.
Smith held on to fourth but improvements from Yuki Takahashi, Simone Corsi and Alex de Angelis sent Bradl from a strong fourth to a disappointing eighth. Takahashi finished fifth while Corsi produced his best lap of the weekend to snatch sixth from De Angelis in the dying seconds.
The JIR rider will start ahead of Bradl on the third row with Dominique Aegerter joining them in ninth. Mattia Pasini completed the top ten for Ioda Racing but Scott Redding couldn't get in amongst the frontrunners, having to settle for 15th.
The session also saw nasty accidents for Randy Krummenacher and Pol Espargaro as both lost control coming on to the start/finish straight. Espargaro was particularly lucky as Kenny Noyes came within inches of hitting him as he lied on the track but eventually remounted to qualify 21st. Krummenacher wasn't so lucky and his bike was too damaged to even set a time.