Johann Zarco surprised championship rival Nicolas Terol to take a crucial pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. Trailing the Spaniard by 36 points, this weekend may be Zarco's last chance to keep his title hopes alive and a maiden victory tomorrow would certainly do the trick.
Terol was over half a second quicker than everybody else in morning practice and looked set to dominate again in qualifying, moving to the top of the timesheets on a 1:59.139. What followed was a devastating series of laps as he extended his lead to 0.642s, with Alberto Moncayo moving into second.
As Terol returned to the pits, Zarco dashed back out on track for a final run, followed by Maverick Vinales. The Blusens rider edged in front of Moncayo with seven minutes remaining but Zarco snatched second moments later, getting within a tenth of Terol.
Surprisingly, Terol was struggling to go any quicker on his final set of tyres and he would pay the price with four minutes to go, as Zarco lowered the target time to a 1:58.054. The Aspar challenge instead came from Hector Faubel who sneaked into second with two minutes remaining. The 28 year old was setting red sector times on his next lap but Zarco had him covered and clocked a 1:57.888 to wrap up pole position.
Terol finally improved his time in the dying seconds but couldn't dislodge his teammate from second, forcing him to start from the outside of the front row tomorrow. Vinales' pole challenge never really materialised and the 16 year old will head up row two while Alberto Moncayo put in a last gasp flyer to hold off Efren Vazquez for fifth.
Sandro Cortese has been quiet through most of the weekend and couldn't do any better than seventh while Jonas Folger qualified eighth, a slight disappointment on his first race back on the RSA Aprilia. Adrian Martin will complete the third row on the third Aspar machine with Alessandro Tonucci rounding out the top ten after a career-best performance for Team Italia FMI.
Luis Salom will be far less satisfied with his day's work after a crash midway through the session saw him tumble from the heights of the top six to a disappointing 12th but Danny Kent will have greater reason to feel frustrated after finishing down in 18th, his worst qualifying result in six races.
Danny Webb will be much happier with 19th for Mahindra while Harry Stafford will start 24th and Taylor Mackenzie 28th on the 35-man grid.