Johann Zarco claimed his second pole position of 2017 after a tyre gamble from Marc Marquez backfired in qualifying at Motegi. On a damp track, Marquez was a little hasty in switching to slick tyres, opening the door for Zarco to snatch pole ahead of Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci with Marquez relegated to third.
All three practice sessions had taken place in wet conditions which weren’t expected to favour the Movistar Yamahas, in particular Maverick Vinales who was unable to secure an automatic spot in Q2. With the weather barely improving for Q1, Vinales’ fortunes didn’t either and the Spaniard was forced to settle for fourth in the session, leaving him fourteenth on the grid.
Marquez had looked like the rider to beat in free practice and the reigning champion made a blistering start to Q2, clocking a 1:53.903 to open up a 1.8 second advantage over his nearest challenger. With such a comfortable cushion, Marc opted to gamble with a set of dry tyres for his second run but as Valentino Rossi had already proven, the track was still nowhere near ready for slicks.
With Marquez failing to improve on his opening effort, the door was left wide open for Zarco to claim pole with a 1:53.469 on his penultimate lap, owing to a sensational final sector. Danilo Petrucci climbed to second with his final flyer with Marquez hanging onto third ahead of Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro who ensured four different manufacturers will make up the top four spots on the grid.
Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, both former Motegi winners, will start fifth and sixth with the KTMs of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro securing the team’s best-ever combined qualifying result after both riders had advanced from Q1. Championship challenger Andrea Dovizioso has work to do from ninth with the two Suzukis of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone pushing Rossi back to twelfth.
2017 Motul Grand Prix of Japan – Qualifying
[table id=2586 /]