Romano Fenati claimed the first pole position of his Grand Prix career at the 67th attempt in a frantic qualifying session in Japan. The Italian, not known for his single lap prowess, set the fastest ever Moto3 lap of Motegi to see off Miguel Oliveira despite a late crash.
Niccolo Antonelli walked into qualifying as favourite for pole position having topped all three practice sessions but the Italian spent the early stages as a frustrated spectator as Ongetta worked to overcome a brake issue. Having watched home favourite Hiroki Ono set the initial pace, Antonelli finally got down to business at the fifteen minute mark, going quickest on a 1:56.930.
The later run had put Antonelli out of sync with his rivals and as the Italian regrouped in his garage, his grip on pole position was quickly loosened. Jorge Navarro was the first to usurp him but the greater threat was a couple of bikes further back as Fenati produced an absolute lap record, using a tow from Danny Kent’s Leopard KTM to great effect.
Fenati’s defence of pole position hardly got off to the best start with the Sky VR46 man losing the front end at turn five at the start of his final run. Fortunately for him, his rivals were too busy mired in traffic to take advantage while Antonelli’s bid came unstuck with an identical crash to his compatriot, the Honda also giving way at turn five.
With the chequered flag flying, Oliveira secured a KTM 1-2 with a last ditch effort while a late improvement from Navarro failed to prevent him from falling a place to third. Antonelli’s crash dropped him off the front row to fourth with championship rivals Enea Bastianini and Danny Kent together on row two, fifth and sixth respectively.
Isaac Vinales starts seventh ahead of Jakub Kornfeil and Livio Loi while Brad Binder rounded out the top ten, two places ahead of Ono who was punished for his failure to improve on his early attempt.