Nicolo Bulega took his first pole position since Jerez 2016 in wet conditions at Motegi as Joan Mir’s hopes of clinching the world championship in Japan took a blow in qualifying. The Spaniard will be crowned champion with a top-two finish tomorrow but the Leopard rider struggled for confidence in the rain, leaving him 20th on the grid.
With the inclement weather acting as a real leveller, a number of Mahindra riders showed promising performance with Albert Arenas setting the pace early on, only to crash in the final fifteen minutes and plummet down the order. Once the Aspar rider fell out of the reckoning, the CIP team-mates Marco Bezzecchi and Manuel Pagliani began to fly the Mahindra flag, both threatening the front row of the grid.
Ten minutes from time, Bulega removed any doubt over the identity of the polesitter by setting a 2:10.237, the first of four pole position laps in this final run. The Sky VR46 rider looked to have peaked with a 2:09.688 four minutes from the end, especially when he skated straight into the turn one gravel trap, but the Italian would improve in the dying seconds to a 2:09.320, a lap that would prove crucial when compatriot Niccolo Antonelli grabbed second, setting a 2:09.592.
Aron Canet rose to third on his last lap, denying Bezzecchi a first-ever front row start, with Enea Bastianini and Romano Fenati making up an all-Italian second row. Jorge Martin lines up seventh ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo and the second CIP Mahindra of Pagliani while Mir’s misery was completed when late improvements relegated him to fourteenth, which will soon become 20th when his Aragon grid penalty is applied.
Moto3 Motul Grand Prix of Japan: Qualifying
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